Stately Wayne Manor, such as it is. The old girl has seen better days for sure. Everything has just been a constant struggle to keep up. It all started with Bruce’s death. A lot of talk has been about Batman’s death, but that’s the catch in all of this. Batman didn’t die. Bruce Wayne did. He was killed in what most people outside of our little family believe was a random act of violence no different than his Mother and Father. Gunned down on the street due to the symbol he’d represented in the City (and the world). While the Foundation was left to Tim, the Manor was left to me. We’d all wondered what exactly Damian was left, but Alfred had told me long, long before Dinah approached. That it was written that way to make sure each of the sons knew what they were inheriting. The Manor held the Cave and as such that went to the son who should inherit that legacy.
When I got here, I’d spent six months more or less holed up in the library. Most of the staff were let go. Alfred wasn’t able to keep up with the sheer volume of the investigation I’d begun to do in to Bruce’s passing. The Cave was Moth-Balled, because I simply told the lot of them that I wouldn’t do it. Then came the backfire of all the Cave’s technology, followed by the Ninja, then the physical attack on the Cave… we’ve scarcely had time breathe. Much less repair it all. Even still Alfred manages to work miracles around here and so despite there being a literal litany of people sitting in the Manor’s sitting room? It looks homey. There’s a fire lit. Everyone has food and drink.
The role call is a who’s who. Timothy Drake in a suit that I’ve seen only once before, has made himself at home in a seat near the fire. He’s got some sort of holographic display up, apparently still working on his task. Despite being in full costume, neither he, nor Stephanie Brown are wearing a mask. Spoiler seems to be also be distracted by that Gameboy contraption of her’s and I’m surely not the only one who has missed her nervous glances at the grandfather clock tick-tick-ticking away. Then there’s Cassandra Sandsmark and Conner Luthor. They’ve apparently put their ‘work clothes’ on since I saw them less than an hour ago and look completely ridiculous in this old ‘Gothic’ styled home. The pair of them are bright anyway, but you add the glow of a fire to them and it makes Wonder Woman light up the entire room. Last but not least is Dinah Lance who is just in front of me when we step in to the room fashionably late and Alfred Pennyworth who is serving food and drinks to everyone in attendance.
We took the liberty of actually getting ‘dressed’ for this occasion. Figuratively and literally. Though given the tone of this meeting, I’m not sporting the far more comfortable skin of Nightwing. I’ve come in the cape and cowl, the former of which is currently swathed around me like a cloak. I feel only slightly over-dressed sporting the Cowl, given that seemingly everyone else has dropped the pretense of not knowing one another. It just feels like a moment when there needs to be a reminder that this is literally my House. That we asked everyone to gather, but there is a pecking order here and is a burden that I wear. But I will wear it.
“Status report Robin?”
“Let’s cut the Robin and just go with ‘Drake’ for the moment. I’m working on a new moniker.” Tim barely looks up from the Holographic interface to correct me, but when he does there’s a small ‘gulp’ at the sight of my nonplussed gaze. “Right, okay then. This thing you’re calling the Vault, is something we’ve all known existed. None of us actually knew the form it took. Bee tee doubleya, by ‘all,’ I mean those of us who have lived in this house. For example during Dick’s time here there was a vault below the Cave where Batman would house his foe’s most dangerous tech that couldn’t be left to Police impound for fear it might end up in the wrong hands. During Damian’s time as Robin, the Vault expanded to have it’s own holding facility because during the No Man’s Land period there was no law, no jails or arkham. It was during my between his time and my tenure as Robin, that Bruce installed the current upgrades. From what I can ascertain they were put in place to deal with Parallax, should they be able to take Hal Jordan alive.”
That projection he’d been working on is literally cast out in to the middle of the room for all of us to see. It’s filled with dimensional images and video for us to see as he speaks. Data, blue-prints, schematics. The names of the engineers are all different. No one person built this, it was designed by hundreds of people. Bruce just took their engineering and put it together.
“During the assault on the Cave, the attacker intentionally botched an attempt to gain access to the cave through a systemic reboot of the security system. Whomever it was had 15 seconds of time during which the security was down. This sounds totally reckless now that we know there were actually captives down there, but the security isn’t what is holding those people. It’s the Kryptonian crystallis system. It bends every single form of energy that I can even postulate and confines it to the cubic cells. So the person who did the attack knew this and therefor needed 15 seconds to take whatever they took from the Vault.”
“This is where Dick needed Barbara. She was able to trick the Brother-Eye system in to believing that those cells were being violated. That also sounds miraculous, until I realized… she didn’t have to hack the system. Once she was able to physically locate the over-rides, she simply took Bruce’s form and unlocked the Vault. This is where it gets sketchy, because I’m still not sure what the hell she was doing in the cell with Dinah’s Brother. And I’m not sure why Dinah’s Brother… let’s just ignore that Dinah doesn’t have one… was actually down there, but he is and has been for at least a year, possibly more.”
Each time Tim stops speaking he shifts the Holographic projection to -show- us stilled images of various portions that he is describing.
“Here’s where we really get in to the weeds. You asked me to fact-check everything. I did what I could in the time allowed. Alfred is somewhat clean. Despite assisting in the build, Alfred was completely locked out of the system about a week before Bruce put your Brother down there. I’ve cross-referenced everything, Bruce went to Rapid City about three days after he locked Alfred out and he then sent Alfie on a vacation up to his cabin in New Hampshire to see his daughter… another relative I wasn’t aware of, might I add… this correlates directly to several other trips Bruce has made to Rapid City over the years. I believe he’s been planning this for a very long time.”
“Thank you for the briefing… eh.. Drake, but you left at least one thing unanswered. Is the Martian safe to let out of the cage?”
This clearly makes Timothy uneasy, but I’m not entirely sure why. He shares a look with Cassie and Conner, but I’ve got no idea what it means or why he does it. The three of them know one another well from while Tim went to school with them, so perhaps the three of them all knew M’Gann in some form or another?
“There’s no definitive test that I can, which would give us a credible answer. The person in the other cell isn’t using a standard form of mind control that we’re used too. It’s possession. Which in a non-mystical sense, is a form of rapid mental domination on a genetic level. Since she’s a shape-shifter, there’s a chance that she simply re-wrote her DNA as fast as he was making changes. There’s an equal or even better chance that she didn’t or at least not all of what was done. From the files, there have been tests done on Dinah’s Brother over the years, as Bruce attempted to reverse the effects. There’s been a lot of success, but the key hurdle is that if one cell of this ‘Vertigo’ remains in the system, it eventually multiplies and re-takes the host.”
“So we can’t let her go.” It’s best, I think, if I say those words because then perhaps the Supers will understand the gravity of what is being said. Except then Tim makes that noise he does, when he’s the smartest person in the room.
“Well. One test was actually a success.” His throat clears again and he gestures to Dinah. “Well. During the original encounter Dinah’s team had with this Vertigo thing. They were able to free everyone else from it’s possession, when she … uh…”
“Killed him. She killed him, Red. Which brings us back to the question I asked before they got here. How the fuck is he alive, if she killed him?”
“According to Bruce’s notes. Nowhere re-animated Kurt Lance, in order to harvest the virus. Vertigo was seen a more humane method of putting a suicide in the field, then implanting bombs in to their brain. Don’t worry. They couldn’t control it. So they scrapped the idea and started cloning real heroes to be programmed…”
“Where does all of this information leave us?”
“You’re not killing Megan.”
“Suddenly a little blood on your hands is a problem?”
“There will be blood, but it won’t be Megan’s if you guys go down that route.”
“I didn’t suggest we kill her, you didn’t let me get that far. I was going to say… we might want to think about re-killing Kurt Lance. I’m not clear on the ethics involved in killing someone who’s technically already dead. But…”
“… if killing is wrong, then it’s just wrong. I’m sick of you people constantly changing the rules. Either Killing someone is okay or it isn’t. Black and white. Right Cassie?”
“Now Cassie’s opinion matters to you? You’re half the reason this entire problem exists.”
Ahem. “Master Drake, Mister Luthor. Would either of you like a cold drink perhaps?”
Dinah: I haven’t spent a whole lot of time here since Bruce died, and I came back to Gotham City. I was working with Tim, and we’d been operating out of the Nest instead. The only times I really actually came up to ‘the house’ was to yell at someone. Or for Halloween. I briefly considered turning up for this exactly as I’d already been: in even more disheveled workout gear than I’d had on the last time, but Dick’s pulled out the big Bat gun, and we probably need to set a tone. This had needed to happen regardless, I’d taken Conner seriously after that train, but it was already abundantly clear to me that ‘my’ problem wasn’t just going to be ‘my’ problem. There were targets for NOWHERE to take aim at beyond myself, and as it turns out ‘my’ problem is a whole lot bigger than I actually anticipated. One side of it. There’s different repercussions for the second. Admittedly, there’s three more attendees than I’d actually planned on…
Either way, even in my full gear, I’m the most underdressed person in the room, and I don’t even mean in sheer amount of skin showing. This of course doesn’t bother me, but Spoiler’s clearly gotten an upgrade over what I last trained with her in, and is still playing her stupid game while looking anxious about being here, and Wonder Girl’s costume is a great deal more spangly in person, or maybe that’s thanks to the firelight throwing a reflection on it. I couldn’t even actually guess what the fabric is, and I spend enough time trying to that she notices, and pointedly looks away.
“…well that’s a little obvious for a starter, but we’re all friends and fam here so…”
I’m mostly talking to myself, he’s giving his report and relaying information is Tim’s thing, particularly if he gets to reveal something he’s figured out before anyone else has. No mocking or judgement there. It’s what he does. He’s good at it. Sometimes he even makes sure everyone actually understands the magnitude of what he’s saying, but fortunately for even us plebians this is mostly English. And I have questions but they’re not actually immediately relevant to our issue and this problem. The logistics of how Kurt’s been eating down there for God knows how long, for one thing. Standing with my arms folded across my chest, I start to make the observation, circling back to what Dick and I, and Tim and I separately, had already concluded about the intruder, and the points that this proves.
“So the attacker had to know there was a Vault, they needed to know exactly what was in said Vault, know exactly how to get to it, and know exactly where to go in it to retrieve whatever it was that they were after, while also either covering their trail to get into the Cave, or preventing all the systems from detecting them in the first place. So either there’s a speedster involved or. Is. Your father alive?”
Holy shit, she speaks in whole non-stammering sentences that don’t only involve her speaking up in order to charm an audience, or trying to contain Conner from whatever his current moment of ridiculousness is? Maybe I’m a little harsh, since I had literally no experience with her up until today, and given that Tim’s a genius, albeit a teenage one, and Conner’s smart and observant and doesn’t strike me as the tie himself to one person unless they were actually pretty special type… I’ll admit I’d kind of figured maybe they both only thought she was so great because she’s yet another gorgeous, well built blonde and they were both in love with… her… While I was boggling over Wonder Girl’s observation, and the sincere concern that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the big problem, and more Bruce being not so dead, the conversation had carried on to what we’re really here to discuss.
And it has moved on to the two of them fighting. This isn’t banter, or bickering. There’s answers to questions I had myself, but those are about to get glossed over in rapid fashion. Conner had told me, before we got to Rapid City, that I’d blown Kurt’s head up. Off. Distinction that doesn’t really matter. It was clearly intact. And he is clearly in there, in some part, because I saw those memories. Steve Trevor had spoken to him since. Do I know for certain that it isn’t Vertigo aping my brother? No. But either way, I’d wondered if perhaps the reports filed, that Conner had access to in order to tell me the information, might maybe have not been entirely accurate in the details of how things fell out on that last mission.
It is very clear to me that they’re not fighting about M’gann, or what we’re going to do with her, that subject is just what they’re using to air some other bits of hostility. Cassandra’s expression has shifted from concern, to thinly veiled dismay as she watches her friend, and boyfriend, going back and forth like a ping pong match, until she interjects about the same time Alfred does.
“Stop it. Both of you.
Then there’s me, casually examining my fingernails, even though I don’t typically paint them and I’m wearing gloves that cover them up anyway, with a tone of voice that is so light and airy that it probably sends up red flag danger warnings in half the people in the room’s brains.
“I’m going to ignore the fact that we’re just casually throwing out murdering my brother as an acceptable option here, and circle back to the part where we don’t kill people. Even when they’re insufferable asshats that arguably deserve it. So what are our productive options on scanning the Martian for Vertigo? And what are we going to do about your other friend in the meantime?”
Dick: “We have a couple of theories with regard to the answer of that question, Wonder Woman,” applying a deep emphasis on the term, to in turn make clear what I think of the two kids bickering. “At the moment we haven’t been able to firmly determine if any of them are correct. I will say most of our current theories run in line with ‘Yes.’
Let’s just be very honest here, the best thing I’m doing right now is what Batman does best. Loom. Also I’m listening to the group in order to mentally take stock of them. Most everyone here I know, if only on different levels of varying degrees friendship. Unless you count Superboy, in which case I barely know him. He was Tim’s assignment and I’ve had no chance or cause to interact with him until recently. I’m particularly interested in the bickering and how it’s put down, but that’s for another time. We have problems that are for the right now variety and like clock work Canary cuts right to the heart of it.
“Here’s the thing, and I’m loathe to admit this but, our current systems aren’t advanced enough to do a full medical scan of Martian genetic codes due to their malleable state. In fact that’s actually the luck of the draw on how she was able to be in the Cave at all. Due to the Brother-Eye system being one of the ones taken out a couple months ago when the Cave systems got hacked.” Realizing almost immediately that some in the room don’t have that information, I can see Tim actually scramble suddenly. He doesn’t like having to correct himself and I can tell it bothers him even more to do so in front of Conner. “Back before Christmas, the systems that my Father originally created and that we’ve ran on for years, were all hacked. Legitimately hacked. To Di–Batman‘s point, that’s one of the problems with our theories too. If our Father was alive, he wouldn’t have needed to hack the system to disable it. And if he were going to simply invade to get something from the Vault, then he wouldn’t have needed to do something so obfuscating as hiring someone else to hack the system either.”
“Meaning, that we’ve been under attack from multiple angles for the last year. One of our theories, in fact, is that Bruce faked his death to go to War with a secret cult-like organization based out of Gotham, but with global reach. I’ve got reason to believe they’re actually behind the entire ordeal in Kahndaq, in order to get their hands on Nth Metal.”
“Which is ironic, because… wait for it…”
“… ugh … it’s like a game show. Tim’s going to cut to commercial and we’re going to have to listen to Freakshow talk.”
“. . . did they design you specifically to be an asshat? You smug piece of…”
“… cheese and wine … are available for those whom are old enough to partake. I’ve taken the liberty of setting a table in the children’s dining hall for those whom are not…”
“Bleh. Fine. The irony? M’Gann unlocked everything when she did what she did. I was able to compare Bruce’s most previous inventory to current inventory. Two items are missing. One piece of Kryptonite. One Nth Metal dohickie that was titled labled ‘Absorbascon.’ Seriously, I don’t have a good enough imagination to even make that up. I half thought Spoiler read the files before I did.”
“Absorbascon is an item that was stolen from Nowhere about three years ago.” My eyebrows lift right up, but before I can say a word, Conner’s putting his hand on Cassie’s leg. “Came from the same place I took this materia from. Nowhere has a vault like the one you’re talking about, in Metropolis. It’s full of items they’ve recovered, but either couldn’t make work or didn’t think actually did anything useful.”
“That’s comforting. Everyone has a vault of secret W.M.D.’s in their basement.” If I’d come as Nightwing, I’d be rubbing my nose at the moment. “So this item that is missing from our Vault, is the same metal that I believe the ‘Court of Owls’ is creating World War III over. Now the sample we actually did have, that we weren’t even aware of, is our stolen item. Lending yet more credence to the theory that Bruce is alive.”
“However, while this is all very well and good. We’re here to discuss impending doom by way of this ‘Raven’ individual. How are we going to avert that?”
“There is one thing.”
“See? Commercial break.”
Whatever it is, he doesn’t want to say it because… “… if Conner was to go in to her cell, there’s a chance he could use his enhanced visual accuity…”
“… to read her genetic code. Assuming he’s fast enough to do it, smart enough to read and understand it, there’s a chance that even if she’s infected he could utilize his extra-sensory ability…”
“… to remove the infection. If he’s not any of those things. We’ll have a Martian and Kryptonian infected and in our basement.”
Dinah: Cassie’s eyes widen over the confirmation of what she’d gathered herself from all of this, and you can almost read a momentary excitement there as she looks especially towards Tim as if to say, ‘but that’s amazing, right?’ only to half a second later realize that maybe it’s not in the current context and situation. Then it’s right back to paying rapt attention to the information being relayed to all of us, with a tiny perfect wrinkle on that forehead of hers, while leaning in towards Tim. Ah, Christ, is all I can think with a roll of my eyes, no wonder Dick said this girl’s a problem for our Boy Genius. If I were doing that move, right there? There’d probably be more tits hanging out, but otherwise it’d be to stroke an ego (so I could ultimately crush it) and make him want to impress me. Flirtation 101, maybe even remedial level. Except nothing else I’ve seen about her makes me think she has a fucking clue what she’s doing, so either she’s really, really good, and maybe also gaming Conner or…
There’s a momentary lapse in order to shoot a displeased look at Conner for his interruption, Stephanie who’s been silent for the longest time put together ever, actually looks up from her game long enough to spread her hands in a ‘what the actual fuck?’ gesture at being called out. That’s about the same time that our eyes meet, in the middle of her coming to an observation all her own as eyes flick back and forth between Tim and the ‘new girl.’ Then she’s pulling the hood of her costume up over white blonde hair, and sinking a little lower into her chair with that gameboy and… she just slipped an earbud into her ear.
“Unless your Father, or someone else, had already removed it after his last inventory. If it was someone else, they still had to know it was down there in the first place, though, and still know where to look so if it wasn’t Batman… the original Batman, then either they got that information from him voluntarily or…”
“Or he’s breadcruming us again, which my brain almost cannot take on right now,” one eyebrow is lifted, the other squinched down as I can’t not focus on the complete and utter lack of reaction from either Conner, our resident half-Kryptonian, or his girlfriend, to the revelation that Bruce had Kryptonite and it’s also missing, but that’s something I’m intentionally not calling their attention to. Tim and Conner’s bickering is making me want to box their ears literally, they might be kids, as Alfred has pointedly called out, but they’ve got to be better than this right now. Clearly I’m one of the old ones now, getting annoyed by all of the childish… “Spoiler. I know this is all a little above your pay grade, but if you’re going to be here pay attention. Conner, Tim, anyone at this point… what does this Absorwhatever do. Or not do usefully enough for NOWHERE to care much about it?”
“Uhhhm, so we were kiiiind of in the middle of something when the systems triggered before,” So help me, I’m going to uncork on the easy target in the room if she intimates in even the slightest that we interrupted Tim passing the time with… “And while I totes get Batman’s concern about things that go boom in people’s basements, because there probably was a bunch of them that we haven’t really figured out what they do yet in my Dad’s the last time we were there, and right now we kind of have someone we were interrogating tied up in the living room, and I thought he was waking up but… I mean. Probably fine. Yelling in the neighbor’s house is like, typical errrrryday in the Narrows…”
Twisting a purple gloved hand, she flashes the game machine’s screen at me long enough to sheepishly display what looks to be a Junior Detective Version of a Tim Drake project spread, rather than any actual video game. Huh. She looks at the momentary surprise on my expression, pauses for a moment like she’s waiting for an apology, realizes she already knows that sure ain’t coming and then with a snap of bubblegum I hadn’t even known she had until this second, goes back to work.
“…yeah sooo I’ll just let you real superheroes go back to your reality TV debate club and…
“Ahem. Conner’s regularly been able to spot the changes in M’gann’s cells before. It’s why he uses his x-ray vision on people, posing as someone else isn’t precisely a new thing for her, so it’s necessary to check sometimes if…”
“…haha yeah sure that’s why he does it…”
And now the girls are getting into it, too, judging by the way I just practically saw Wonder Woman’s hair start to puff up like an angry cat, whether it’s over being interrupted, or someone calling Conner on what we all sure wanted to say on at least a teensy tiny level, I actually get a flash of that something ‘else’ that Dick had talked about and that I hadn’t wanted to admit the girl might really have… no. Wait. I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck starting to rise, and as I shift my weight the building static in the air becomes clear.
“Enough.” There’s force behind that word, not enough to damage the Wayne’s Home, but definitely enough to set the chandelier to tinkling, and everything to rock just a little bit, not to mention be felt. Stephanie’s mouth snaps shut, Cassie cringes in a way that answers the question mark in the file over whether or not her senses were improved with her physiology, and I move on after planting my hands on my hips and squaring my stance. “We’ve gotten all your input, so if you can’t fucking behave like the heroes you want to be, and that we need present and working together right now, then you can get the fuck out and Batman and I will make a unilateral decision that you’ll fall in line with or… get the fuck out.”
There’s a pause for response, or getting the fuck out, but mostly it’s to see if anyone wants to sass me so that I can demonstrate exactly how accurate I can be with a small angle scream.
“Is there anything, or anyone else of use in the basement, because I don’t actually want to risk having to lock up Superman down there, too, especially on the heels of what we just did yesterday, and what we know, but unless there’s a solution to deal with the Magical Psychopath that’s potentially going to be here any minute, I don’t really hear any other viable choices from the peanut gallery.”
Admittedly, he might fare okay after what Steve Trevor said about Vertigo and people with/without morals, but allowing anyone we can’t control under the sway of that entity is less than acceptable.
DIck: This is why I’d come here in the Cape and Cowl. As Nightwing, I’m one of them. As Batman, I’m above it. Someone whom can actually speak with authority, if only because the Cowl conveys it upon me. Even if I truly am just one of them, the act of just being Batman, being accepted -as- Batman, means that I hold some manner of sway. The trouble is knowing when to use it and when to listen. Right now the in-fighting is not exactly helping us with the immediate problem, but in the long term (assuming there is one) I am getting so much information about all of the people in this room that I won’t need to rely on second hand accounts anymore.
Dinah knows everyone in this room better than I do. She’s experienced, tough as nails and as far as I can tell every single person here respects her. Even the Demigod that barely knows her immediately went silent when Dinah began to explode. I’m impressed, quite honestly. Though she certainly aided her efforts to be heard by making her voice impossible to be denied, didn’t she? Every tool, in the toolbox.
Wait. Stephanie said they have someone tied up in her Father’s apartment? Well okay. That’s going on to the ‘list of things we need to discuss.’ Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with many things of late, it has to further down the list than ‘Hell-Child coming to Unleash Satan on Gotham.’ If such a threat is to be taken literally, of course, I’m admittedly not sure I entirely buy in to all of that. If that’s the case then why hasn’t this person been unleashed before now?
“Honestly, X-Ray vision does have other benefits, but the reason I scan everyone I meet? Is because I spent two years having no idea if I was talking to a real person or someone they cooked up to have M’Gann test me with me. Half the time? I still don’t know, if I don’t check.” The Superboy’s tone is very different, after Dinah’s explosion, than it was just a few moments ago. Did she bring him down off of the constant bickering or was it Cassie coming to his defense? “Canary’s experiencing it herself, right now. Nowhere replaced Mayor Queen, in Star City. It’s actually part of the protocols, which were created for a good reason. To stop public panic when someone like ‘Green Lantern’ gets corrupted, like with the Parallax situation that Tim brought up. It’s just been…perverted and abused.”
“Good people lose their way, Son. Thus the saying about the road to hell, being paved with good intentions.”
As much as I’ve been ill-impressed with the Superboy, I’m impressed that he has the ability to speak so clearly about this Nowhere group that he’s been working with his entire life. I’ve met the boy four times and each time has been slightly different, but they follow two different themes I’m starting to pick up on. Conner Luthor is Brash, Spoiled, Educated clearly, but sterotypical of today’s millennial culture of entitlement. So much so that his whims seem to change every couple minutes. Each meeting with him in costume has been a stark contrast. He seems dedicated, albeit it to the idea of being Cassie’s Hero, thoroughly trained, highly skilled and holding of convictions that aren’t entirely in line with my own. At least he has them. One of those two personas is fake, I’m just not sure which one.
Then there’s Cassandra. Her interactions have me the most curious. I’m told we’re banking on her to be the ‘control’ on Superboy, but she doesn’t seem to fully understand the power she holds over him. More especially the power she holds on every teenage boy that sees her. Properly harnessed she’d have them all eating out of her hand as surely as Vertigo’s mind control. So then what do we have with her?
“I think I can answer your question about the Absorbawhatsis. The reason that Nowhere was in possession of it, is because it was ‘rumored’ to hold mystical properties. The legend was that it allowed the holder to link with a people, not just one person but an entire culture for example, thereby absorbing their entire civilization. The wielder would then be able to think, act, speak… just like a member of the culture. A perfect tool for an Alien invasion, which is what Nowhere believed was in the works when the item was originally discovered. A race of avian-winged people were seeded in to the Earth Culture. They used the stone to learn the culture and blend in. Admittedly, once again, the original intention was good when your Grandma’s people took the rock. Over the years though, the thinking was that the item might be able to be of use when replacing people of interest. The rock didn’t quite work the way it was hoped for, so it was stored in the artifacts vault to be kept safe but not used.”
“Huh. That actually makes a lot of sense. My current theory, is that Bruce got his hands on the item for use in recovering your Brother’s mind, so that if cured of this Vertigo possession, he’d be able to reconstitute him. But if he could get it to work… he’d be able to infiltrate this cult of owls thing.” This is the first time so far that Tim has seemed less than totally hostile at his supposed best friend. Apparently it took Dinah screaming and Conner to say something intelligent to accomplish that goal. Alternatively… he’s responding to the way Cassie leaned in his direction to soothe him? “As to what you asked me, Dinah, there is two other people down in our vault. I don’t believe they’re going to be of much assistance with the Raven-issue, but they are something worth noted for our other situation(s).”
Up until this point I’ve been specifically ignoring Alfred, because he was doing the routine he always dives in to when we have guests. Serving those in attendance with food, drink, while attempting to only chime in when there were points of contention that needed to be cut off. He normally does not actively participate in the meetings. I’ve had hundreds of these meetings before and he rarely speaks up to offer real input, unless questioned directly. This should be… interesting.
“If I may…”
“You have something Alfred? Go ahead. You have the floor.”
“It occurs to me, that we are focused on a stop-gap for this Raven situation. Master Wayne. The original, Thomas. Doctor Wayne. Used to say frequently that we were constantly chasing symptoms for Gotham’s illness, but rarely treating the disease. To such a point, I might add, that perhaps instead of risking the contagion on young Kon-El for the purpose of simply checking on our melted friend. Perhaps if the risk is present anyway, we should instead deal with the disease.”
Cowled head tilts to the side, waiting for Alfred to continue. I knew this would be interesting, the old codger is making a show of it. Even now he’s acting as though he doesn’t know precisely how to use Tim’s holographic systems and it’s some sort of difficulty. Which in turn has Timothy treating the old man, as if he needs help and assistance. Coaching even. To find the exact image he’s looking for. The image we eventually get? Is the room Dinah and I charged in to, where we found Barbara and Vertigo locked in their battle of wills.
“Master Drake, what is this item here. On the floor of the cell. I believe I know it from somewhere. Could you jog my memory.”
“It’s a high school projector, Alfred. Precursor to television. Moving Pictures. You know?”
“Tch. Just so Master Drake, but … I’ve seen that specific one before. Clark gave it to Master Bruce, before he left.”
“Huh, that looks familiar to me too.”
“OOokay. Um…” Now Tim is actually working the controls on his wrist. “Phantom Zone Projector. According to the Manifest, it’s a gateway for a kryptonian prison dimension.”
“It’s position in the cell, suggests that Master Bruce positioned it as a failsafe, should the crystal cell begin to fail. When Marbara, our prisoner made sure to disable it immediately.”
“You’re suggesting that we open the cell again. To get that device. So that we deal with Vertigo directly instead of risking Conner on a Queen’s Gambit? Bold chess, Alfred.” In all of this back and forth, this is the first time I’ve actually turned entirely from the rest of them to look at Dinah. “You asked for other options, that one sounds viable.”
“Actually. There is one other option. Two actually. We could keep talking, but once Raven’s gets here all bets are off on which of you survive. We… could let Cassie smite him.” Okay. I think I’ve just ‘goggled’ for the first time in my whole life. Truthfully I can’t tell if Superboy is enamored with his girlfriend or believes what he said is an actually viable option. But thank god for the cowl, otherwise I might just have rolled my eyes hard enough to make my head lull. “Her Lasso. It’s strong enough, that I can’t break it. And I’ve seen it conduct electricty. She’s got Zeus’ bolt.”
“Negative. We don’t get to godmode this one, unfortunately. The last bit of information I’ve been waiting to pass on? Kurt Lance. His meta-human power is augmentation. He can bolster or remove meta-human powers completely. You touch him with the lasso, he turns it off. We don’t know how it works, the touch of the lasso might act as a conduit to turning off Cassie’s powers too.”
“Key-words, Tim. Meta-Human. She’s not Human. She’s divine.”
“Half-Human. So I’m half-worried we’d lose our Wonder Woman.”
“Alright, I think we’ve got a number of options on the table, but I think only two of them address the most immediate concerns. We need to choose between sending Superboy in to check on his friend. Or. We need to make a play for that projector device. Ultimately, we’re talking about Dinah’s Brother, so the decision to use the projector or not, is going to be up to her.” A hand raises out from beneath the cloaked cape. “I understand that everyone has a piece of the pie at risk here. Which is why you all were invited to give input, but we’re going to start with Dinah deciding if she wants to send her brother to this ‘Phantom Zone.’ If she doesn’t? It’s pretty obvious to me that Conner is willing to give option 2 a try.”
Dinah: It’s really only the fact that I just forcefully course corrected the group’s entire conversation that I don’t latch onto what Conner’s just said with all of my pent up hurt and vitriol. Clearly, it’s not pushed down as completely as I had thought, in the face of chasing my answers and what I’d actually learned in that hunt. I had thought I was going to find evidence of the things that NOWHERE has been doing, had been doing for years apparently, that there’d be something I could use to make them hurt in a very permanent fashion for what they’d done to Oliver. Only Rapid City had been opening a can of worms, and taking the wind out of my sails to use all the metaphors at my disposal. Coming home to find out Barbara had gotten a similar treatment? I don’t think any of us have really gotten to fully process that one yet. It’s only hours old, and there’s been a whole lot of ‘bigger problem’ in that very short time.
Conner is now, suddenly, very much more the Conner I know and actually like quite a lot, so I let him finish instead of launching into a hiding because he’s the best thing I’ve got available to lash out at when it comes to NOWHERE. Given he saved us in a very real and needed way on that train, and what he’s actually said, it’s clear he knows there’s some issues with the way things are being done in the organization. It’s also a reminder that even their own are subject to ongoing and submersive mind-fuckery. I suppose you don’t need to play nice to keep your loyal soldiers when you can just surgically psyche-rape them though. That combination makes me personally inclined to let the Martian rot down there…
“Unless Absorbascan only fully works for the people that created it. My lasso wouldn’t function in any meaningful way for them, neither would the Golden Fleece, which is how they both ended up in NOWHERE’s junk drawer, and Conner was able to ‘gift’ it to me…”
Did she just point at her leg, next to where Conner’s hand has been, when speaking about the Golden Fleece? First off, I’d laugh and say that’s a fairy tale but when you’ve got a supposed, actual, demi-God and child of Zeus sitting across the room from you, you have to start opening your mind to trying to accept a thing or two. I suppose that would explain how damn sparkly that suit is, but I just assumed spandex and sequins. I am fairly sure that Spoiler has rolled her eyes underneath the cover of her hood, but… that could also have just been the firelight bouncing off Wonder Woman’s getup.
“You know, if Bruce Wayne is ‘dead,’ and he is infiltrating the Court of Owls, then he can’t very well be doing it as himself. That’s a whole new round of branching potential paths, from supporting evidence to him having already taken the item, to not very well being able to just waltz into the Batcave and let himself in like he owned the place…”
Even I can’t help it. Christ. There’s just too much going on, and all of it is just connected enough that it’s easy to lose the thread we’re currently chasing, to diverting off on a tangle that’s surrounding it and intertwined. Pinching the bridge of my nose, I shake my head hard, back and forth once like I’m clearing it out. I’m actually grateful to Alfred for chiming in when he does, and I contain any remarks about him now asking permission to voice his opinion, and also leading Tim by the nose water. Who then drinks.
“Mmn. Makes sense. Also explains why Vertigo wanted me so bad.”
There’s my clarification on exactly what ‘tuning fork’ had meant, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of mental creativity to understand that maybe that means Waller had been right. That maybe she either wanted both parts of that world breaking equation under her thumb. Or that she realized recently Kurt was in the wind, and wanted to control at least one, prompting them to no longer be content to just let me be. This projector sounds like a solid option, honestly. Clearly Bruce, despite having a long time to find a ‘cure’ for the problem hadn’t managed it and we all know the man was like a starving dog with a bone when it came to things like that. For good or ill. The pragmatic core of me already had squared up to the fact that there might not actually be one. If I really had killed Kurt, and they brought him back and Vertigo was still there, maybe there really isn’t any Kurt left. Just what Vertigo wants people to think. Steve Trevor had gotten to tell me a little about its tactics, but I’m still coming up with too many ways this might not work.
“Huhwha? Okay, but I’m about maxed out on data for the month so just don’t… yeahnookayright. You’re right. More important. Probably…”
I don’t have mine with me still. I didn’t bother to hunt for it, or to look even a little, because literally anyone that would try to contact me that I could spend the attention on right now was already at Wayne Manor, and God knows she’s going to have hers right there. It’s also been upgraded from the cracked screen model that had looked rather like my phone that I’d seen the last time. Which actually doesn’t stop me to probably many people’s surprise from flicking in a search, pulling up a number and starting a call.
“Put the Sheriff on. He is. Side table. Look behind the mountain of empties. Just give him the damn phone.”
Cassie has gone from looking at me like I’m insane for choosing this moment to reach out to someone not in the Brain Trust currently discussing the fate of the world on a short, incoming hormonal timetable, to her gaze moving back and forth between Conner and Tim. It might be one of the first times I fully understand the debate going on in her eyes, while I wait for the bartender to do what I’d told him to. She can’t decide if she wants to rear up at someone daring to suggest she might fail at doing something, or over someone trying to boss her into doing something that wasn’t her idea first.
“I am not going to kill someone. Especially not with the Bolt, that’s not what it’s meant for, and not when there’s other options. Maybe we could talk to Raven. Explain and…”
The surety and conviction in her voice has melted when she begins to talk about Raven because clearly even she knows that’s not going to be much of an option.
“Well, hey handsome. Quick question. Say a feeler might have creeped its way out of Pandora’s Box. If we remove the Box from the equation, does it become a new box or just… poof?”
The truth is, I already know the answer to what Dick’s asking me to make the ultimate call on. There’s just a variable I can’t risk. I do actually believe I know the answer to my question, too, because if Vertigo was simply able to shift itself to a different infected person then I’d have to guess that its influence in World War I. And World War II. And among Team 7. Would simply have hot potatoed around without end. But there’s no point in throwing my brother through that portal to another dimension, which apparently Bruce just had lying around down there, if the Martian will still remain infected and festering just the same.
Dick: Of all the things I’ve been surprised with this evening? I think seeing Conner lean over to ‘nudge’ Stephanie ranks in the top three. To all appearances the two of them didn’t like one another. I’d have even said they were about to be at each other’s throats about a second ago.
“Don’t be so nervous. Dinah included you. Even if she was just taking your phone, she didn’t kick you out. You’re in now.” Okay. No, I was wrong. That is the most surprising thing that has happened all evening, because I think every single person in the room just stopped what they’re doing to look at the man in the S-shield. I think that’s the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen on Superboy’s face. “She’s hard on people, so the weak ones run away from this life. It gets kinda crazy sometimes. We’re only as strong as our weakest link. Until you explained the gameboy.. ‘you were the weakest link. Now … she likes you. You’re in.”
Huh. The pinch hurt significantly. So I’m not dreaming. There is still a very good chance that this is the one of the Circles of Hell and that I’m just working my way through them. Pretty sure I took the detour through the circles of Lust and Gluttony. What’s possibly the worst part about this though, is the look on Timothy Drake’s face. It’s a mish-mash of pure confusion, which is a foreign emotion on that boy’s face, and a sort of shock that he’s apparently choking on. Other than Dinah talking on the phone, Conner’s commentary is met with momentary silence until Alfred drops a spoon to the floor. The Butler meets my gaze and mouths the words, ‘Eegads, I didn’t know the lad had two braincells to rub together and start a fire?’ Much less the ability to tamp down his own ego to say something like that, even if he knew how or recognized that sort of depth in Dinah.
Steve Trevor is apparently not at the strip club. Surprisingly enough. As it so happens the girl with Harley Quinn’s voice is only to happy to give Dinah his personal number though. She knew enough about the Sheriff to lead the girl on the other end to think she’s one of Steve’s girls apparently. Though it takes her an extra call, she does get to ask that question.
“…evenin’ gorgeous. Seems like you folks made quite a stir up here in my quiet retirement community. Dealing with the aftermath of a blood bath instead of my usual Beer Night. Thanks for that. Uh… okay. So you got more involved after all huh? Kind of had a feeling you would. Short Answer then: When we first encountered Vertigo, he was in another body. Weak and withered. The entity was still strong enough to overcome all of us. We were all infected. All of us. When the entity moved in to your brother… killing him freed all of us. That’s why you did what you did. Does that help, sweetheart? Because I hate to throw complications at you, but Nowhere was just here. Deathstroke took out… well… someone’s going to need to do a lot of countin, because I’ve never seen people cut in to this many pieces. Nowhere sent in some big gun. Next thing I know fire and rescue, the National Guard and every cop in the state is being called. There ain’t no air force base anymore. The News is reporting it as some sort of munitions storage muckup, but… I’d call it Act of Deathstroke.”
Dinah: Even if I weren’t on the phone and somewhat distracted, I would be the person least surprised by what’s actually going on in the room right now. Up until a few days ago, or was that yesterday? Christ, I don’t even know at this point and I probably should because it would indicate the last time I actually got to take a shower or a fucking breath… up until that point I had only interacted with Conner one on one. Apart from anyone else, with the exception of him tossing Deathstroke off my roof first. The Conner I’d seen tonight was very much more what I think Tim’s probably gotten all of the time. At the train, it was to the other extreme. Also.. ouch, when did I become that transparent? Oh, wait. He’s just like me. He’s also right.
Saying I like her might be taking it a bit far, but I’ve clearly misjudged her for being nothing but a ditzy try-hard. I wasn’t aware she knew how to run any of the systems.
“Not on purpose, believe me. I was all set to let that one go for the good of mankind, but it managed to rear up and bite me in the ass as soon as I got back to Gotham. But yes. That does help. It’s what I thought, but old age… rusty-slash-erased memories… I wanted to be absolutely sure.” I blanch because that’s on me in small part. I don’t have the sort of complex that lets me assume all of the guilt for Slade, but his being there at all was on me. “They made him. I’m probably asking for more of my own if I say that’s kharma, and with this week I just don’t need that… thank you, Steve. I’d apologize for disrupting your superhero strippers, but… better go. Second Armageddon of the night to avert, sure you understand.”
I’m pacing a little while I talk, because the energy and anger I’d been trying to mostly contain for the rest of the discussion in this room needs somewhere to go. I’m in ramp up mode. The end of the pep talk, where you’re about to go out on the mat and show the world what you’re made of, and probably deliver some serious hurt to someone in the process. Maybe that’s just how it goes for me… Spoiler’s looking from the handheld computer, to Conner’s limb that touched her, up to his face, and back through the circuit again. An expression not unlike mine when I noticed the utter lack of comment about the missing Kryptonite by literally everyone in the whole room, of suspicion, while Wonder Girl looks more surprised by Conner’s little heart to heart than she probably should. Shouldn’t this girl know him the best?
“Who are you and what did you do with Superdouche? But uh… thanks? I think? Are we like…”
She doesn’t get to finish wherever she was going with that, because I hang up my call and launch immediately back into Team Bat Huddle, returning my attention to Dick.
“Do it. The projector. Tim, you said the Martian deactivated it, how do we turn it back on?”
I’m backing towards the door, clear body language of just wanting to get this done. Over. Now. Because despite knowing it’s the only and best option, I don’t want to have the time to put any amount of thought into it, or what I’ve just made the call to do.
Dick: “Duh, totally.” Superboy is offering Spoiler the fist-bump of doom. This can only mean bad things and I’m not sure I like any of the possibilities. At least they’re not fighting though, so that’s a plus. Added to the two of them, there’s the hush that has fallen over everyone else as we take in the spectacle. Dinah may have actually gotten with her antics, what she didn’t get with her lecture.
Me? I think I’m the one who needs a drink at this point in life. That’s just going to have to wait, because it’s clear that Dinah got her answer. We make eye contact, she nods, I understand. I just don’t think I like it, even if I truly meant what I said. It needs to be her choice, that doesn’t mean I want to see her deal with what she’s about to have to do. Furthermore I know exactly why she’s started barking orders, because if she takes the time to think this through she might allow emotion to override good sense.
Is it a shame that I’m the one in the room that is actually thinking it might be better that way? I can’t help it, but I feel like we keep coming to cross roads and the choices are just between which decision is the better of two terrible options. As I’m watching everyone, deep in though it would seem, it’s surprising to me that Tim hesitates over Dinah’s question. Was he not prepped with the answer or was he not expecting that decision? His face says the latter, but it’s the way his hands haven’t started moving that is the real tell.
“I-I.. u-uh, well…”
“Oh, this is going to be good.”
“… she did. I mean, Megan did. I just.. I haven’t had enough time to…”
A very slight, almost imperceptible incline to my head is given toward the Superboy. I hope Dinah sees it. Timothy doesn’t know how, because he didn’t have enough time. Any normal person in this room wouldn’t be able to either, but Tim is struggling to actually say the words out loud. What did he have? Two hours total time. We were gone to get food, a motel, and an attempted interlude that got interrupted. Had to rush back here to avert the ‘End of All Things’ and by that time Tim had gotten an exorbitant amount of information. Alfred had to lead him through even taking notice of the projector and that tells me all I need to know.
“Don’t worry, Red, I’ve got you.” For the second time in as many moments, Superboy does something I’m not expecting. There’s this gently pat on Cassie’s leg, then he’s rising to his feet and the look he’s got is something I’ve not yet seen. “M’Gann could work your vault, because she’s been in my head. I think I can turn that thing on for Canary.”
Dinah’s making her move and I’m not that far behind her. What I’m seeing behind me is something I wouldn’t have thought possible just a handful of minutes ago. The dynamic shifted when Black Canary stood up to the children in the room bickering. They listened to her. Stephanie did so out of fear. Conner seemed to do so out of respect. Tim’s change in tone seemed to come more out of insecurity than anything else. Over all the change was obvious and note-worthy.
One by one everyone is following Dinah down to the Cave, but I’ve stopped at the doorway to await Wonder Woman. “You were right about what you said. You’re not going to kill someone, it’s not what you’re meant for. You’re going to talk to this Raven person. We have to stop treating them as if they’re all evil. If the Martian is important to her and she thinks we are the bad guys in this? She has every right to the same plan of action that any one of us would take if our loved one was taken captive by the bad guys. It’s exactly what started this entire scenario, Canary charged in because they took one of her’s. Now this Raven is charging in for the same reason. The whole viscous cycle needs to stop.”
“That’s what you actually are meant for, Wonder Woman.”
I can see out of the corner of my peripheral vision that Conner -and- Timothy have stopped on their way down the hidden stairs, behind the fireplace, down to the Cave. Each of them, for much the same reason, wanting to know what I’m saying to the apple of their eye. I don’t care if they hear me. In fact I sort of hope all of them catch it, because I don’t stop at her.
“You’re not going to be alone, Spoiler has been learning the computer tracking systems. Using the Wayne satellites, she’ll guide you to Raven. Penny-One will be tactical control on all three operations. If anything goes wrong with any of the three points he will keep everyone apprised.” That leaves Tim, Dinah, Conner and I to deal with the remaining elements. The bat-cowl’s brows lift slightly for just a moment, as I see Cassandra’s face scrunching up. “Ah, you thought he’d always be by your side? That’s great in theory, but it isn’t how this works. If the two of you are going to be a team, there’s going to come a time when each of you needs to trust the other to do what needs to be done. If the two of you are meant for this, for each other, there’s going to be a moment when you know you can count on each other, even if you’re not side by side.”
“He’s Superman right, Wonder Woman? He can handle this. So can you. Stop fidgeting and get moving. Spoiler, stop blushing and peeking at the Dinosaur. All of you. Get to work or get out of the way.”
Dinah: Stephanie is halfway into returning the offered fist-bump by sheer reflex, when she realizes what she’s doing, pauses, shrugs, and then finishes it, pulling back her hand with a little finger waggle action and Jesus Fucking Christ save us, it has begun. Truly. This is how the world actually ends, provided it doesn’t manage to do it in the next hour or so.
“Tim. It’s okay. That was an ‘in case you know,’ not an ‘I expect you to already have this for me.”
I realize that I did, however. Expect him to already have this for me, because I expected him to know based on the sheer amount of intel he’s already had to offer, despite arriving after us. He always does, talk about a little bit of unfair pressure, coupled with the drive he’s got to prove himself that we’re all well aware of. That, and of course mind control, are what led me to badgering Dick into putting on the cowl in the first place. After all of this, I’m going to have to do some damage control and that’s not something I have ever been good at. No. That’s not the right words, because that implies using kid gloves on him, which won’t help either. A heart to heart.
Conner’s rising, and then volunteering, has me twisting my head slightly. In. Down. It defeats the purpose of this strategy entirely, in not exposing Superman to M’gann and potentially Vertigo. It’s exposing him directly, instead. There’s too much I still don’t know about this foe, and too many questions from my limited experience that I can remember with it tonight. We’re already on the move though, there’s that momentum and I can’t stop. If I stop I’m going to second guess this, even though I know in the end I’ll ultimately make the call of whatever has to be done, we’ll just waste time that we do not have on the way.
“How long do you think it will take to get it back on, Conner, and do you know what we need to do once it is?”
I say we because it’s not about to be just him going into that cell. Cassie looks surprised that Batman’s hung back in order to talk to her, and not just to herd everyone else where they actually need to go, and the fact that the two boys have hung back to watch her means that… the rest of us have to as well. Or maybe it’s just me… and so I keep on walking.
“Um, well. In this case…,” she doesn’t finish stating her opinion on Raven and whether or not she’s actually evil, but it’s visible in her posture when she goes from Cassie to Wonder Woman, who doesn’t get to have an opinion on whether someone’s completely horrible or not and have that dictate the right course of action. “I’ll find her, and try to reason with her. If reason doesn’t work, I’m probably the most magic resistant option anyway.”
Which is where it gets above my pay grade, so maybe I shouldn’t have mocked Stephanie before. Who’s still looking more than a little surprised about being called on for anything in the first place, but she’s already bee-lining for the Big Boy computers, and surreptitiously pulling up the face mask portion of her costume. She could probably claim it’s for comms, but I have a feeling it’s to hide any blushing. The dinosaur. Seriously? Cassie is shaking her head at Dick, lowering her voice even though she knows fully well Conner will hear her regardless.
“That’s not it at all, and I know he can, because he’s amazing and knows what he’s doing, even when I don’t think he does. So does Tim, who I know I can always count on for the right answers. Believe me, the only one I’m worried about in this equation is myself, but I do appreciate the pep talk. Really. Spoiler? Show me where to get a comm, and then point me where I need to go.”
The girls get working on their portion of the project, Cassie telling Stephanie what to look for, but not without turning for a moment of eye contact with Conner. I’m fairly sure I saw her lips shift but definitely couldn’t hear the ‘I love you, please be careful,’ or even make out enough of the movement for words.
Dick: Regardless to what anyone thinks? Tim doesn’t like that Conner has to save him in this. His face is a mask of displeasure even after Dinah excuses him too. I don’t need to be his brother to see that he’s taken this as some sort of hit to his ego. Which I’d already known was fragile but I didn’t think it was eggshell fragile. The guy did amazing work in a short amount of time, but not being able to answer Dinah on the one thing she’s actually requested? It seems to have definitely hit his confidence. I’m not seeing the boy who took pot-shots at Conner anymore. In fact he looks a lot like Damian, broody-kid phase.
“Not long at all, Tim’s picture had a lot of detail. I’ve been studying Krypton’s language since the V.R. and I’ve been working with the technology to try to fix my suit. It looked like he broke the stand, not the projector itself. Honestly, I think from the image I think it’s going to be a matter of point and shoot.”
From where I’m standing, I can only see as Conner puts a hand on Tim’s shoulder and nudges him down the stairs. I miss the look between the three of them, because I’m focused on Cassie for the moment. Once we make it down the stairs with the rest of them, I’m pointing her in the direction of the armory. Alfred seems like he’s headed that way to make sure everyone has what they need anyway.
Conner’s big ‘thumbs up’ at Cassie tells me that they two of them communicated even further, but once again I’ve missed one side of it so I’m without context to know what he’s responding too. Something about him is different right now than it was a mere five minutes earlier. He’s taller. His shoulders seem broader. The kid is always confidence, but this is different. I can feel him going the opposite direction mentally from Tim. While Tim’s confidence was shaken easily, Conner’s has been bolstered by Cassie’s confidence in him and Dinah’s acceptance of his help once more.
Once everyone else had their orders I’ve made a bee-line for Dinah. With my eyes drifting from Conner to her, then back again, I’m asking the unspoken question of why she’d be okay with the Kid going in there with her brother, but not in with the Martian. I mean, I get it. At this point both options equate to him going in, I’m just not understanding what made her pick one way over the other, if both choices risk the Kryptonian. But part of backing her play, is not questioning her in front of the others openly. I put the choice in her hands, she’s made it.
“If it’s point and shoot, then let I’ll take the shot.”
“No offense, Bats, but I could be in there and aiming before you blink.”
“Maybe that’s true, but I’m faster than you think and I won’t miss.”
“You don’t know Kryptonian.”
“I’m a fast learner.”
The way Conner is chewing on this, I can tell he wants to be helpful but he’s at War within himself. His expression says that there’s a sense of wondering if putting up a fight about this is just due to his own ego. The poor kid is wondering what’s the Heroic thing to do. All that intellect and a question of whether to be selfless or a good soldier that follows the chain of command has crippled him. No, he’s definitely not the Superman that I knew. Maybe he could be, but he isn’t yet.
“If Stephanie is on comms, Conner and Dinah are with you two. What am I doing?”
“Upstairs. When Dinah was asking about the options. You hedged. You said there was nothing in the Vault that would be helpful. You were overly specific, which means you knew something that you didn’t tell us. You also hedged when it was pointed out that the missing items could have been removed after the last inventory.” There’s a very hard edge to my voice right now, but I’m doing my best not to destroy my youngest brother. Not when I’ve been watching him self-destruct for the last hour. “You also didn’t jump to confirm when I suggested that Bruce stealing the Nth metal was confirmation. You’ve been trying to convince all of us that he’s alive this whole time, but you didn’t jump on that confirmation at all.”
“I’m fairly confident, that you’re holding the absorbascan and the kryptonite, Timothy. It occurs to me, therefor, that you believe one of those two things could potentially aide us. Once Dinah and I are both in mortal danger, I’m working on the assumption you’ll make the right choice.” And, I’ve just told Dinah that I also believe he was willing to not say a word, so long as Conner Luthor was the one in danger. I did tell her that something was wrong with him. “Shall we?”
Dinah: The truth is, I’m not okay with Superman going in with my brother, or more specifically Vertigo. The boys had voiced concern over Cassie getting depowered, and if that were even possible, but Conner has literally not once in his entire life that I know of been without those powers, that his girlfriend by all accounts only actually acquired a year ago. His answers regarding the projector only cement the fact that it has to be Conner in some form, however. None of the rest of us can read Kryptonian, I’m historically and categorically terrible when it comes to anything more advanced technologically than googling a phone number, or working my VCR.
With Cassandra gone to get her communicator, and Stephanie already working at the computer, I turn my attention from our two boys, and back to Dick. What had started with an almost imperceptible shake of my head in response to what expression, clear enough, I can see beneath the Batman cowl. My plan, at the very least, solidified even more by the back and forth going on. Conner’s the fastest of us by far, there’s just no comparison in scale, but he’s also the most easily lethal and we don’t truly have any idea of how quickly Vertigo can infect someone. I’m inclined to think ‘not that quickly,’ because we saw M’Gann fighting him and she may very well have been for some time. Ignoring that example because none of us are highly skilled telepaths with the mental defenses that likely go along with it, there’s my own experience yester… no, today, which might just have been him toying with me. That leaves me Trevor’s description of the influence on the whole team.
I’m still not taking chances, though. I’m also not adding my judgement on top of the weight of Dick’s, because his is more than sufficient for one, and ganging up on Tim won’t do him, or the rest of us, any favors. There’s United fronts, and then there’s also making sure to shore up all your sides.
“What kind of music do you like? I’ve been working on this thing to weave in a playlist and…”
Oookay, I’m going to ignore what looks like freshman attempts at Teen Girl Squad Bonding Time beginning as Cassie’s returned with her comms, and Spoiler actually bothered to stop her from taking off long enough to check and make sure that they’re working, despite us being in the Batcave where I don’t think I’ve seen anyone run that kind of test in… ever. It’s Battech. It just works, doesn’t it? I’m about in as much of a state of ‘I don’t even know what to make of you’ as I am at Tim’s behavior. So instead of coping with any of that, I tune back in to Channel Dick, and his ‘shall we.’ Moving once again towards the entrance to the sub-sub-basement.
“Not both of us. Me. It’d be bad tactics to expose both of us at the same time. Superman is the fastest, and most immediately able to operate the projector, especially if it’s not just point and shoot. If Vertigo gets hold of him, and with Wonder Woman gone, none of us would be able to put him down as long as we’d need to.” And before anyone tries to vocalize that they have Kryptonite in order to use in just such a horrible occasion, I say it again with as much emphasis and iron as I can manage. “None of us.”
Because it won’t work. Why it won’t work, I couldn’t say, other than it would make perfect sense for Lex Luthor to have made absolutely sure to breed any weakness he couldn’t be sure he had control of, out of his personal Superman. Conner’s ego might have prevented him from reacting outwardly to the mention of it before, but Cassie Sandsmark is far too earnest, far too heart on her sleeve, and far too concerned about her friends. And boyfriend. There would have been something to read off her.
“I’m going in first. Whether it’s Vertigo, or Kurt, or both of them, something in that host wants me.” How’s this for battle face that I don’t even crack wise or saucy about that too easy opening. “I’ll be the distraction, then you come in, Big Blue. Ten seconds should be enough. If it’s not just point and shoot, then you need to get out and seal us in until it’s working. Even amplified, my sonics shouldn’t be able to do anything sealed inside.”
I don’t really mean to relegate both Dick and Tim to thumb twiddling, or maybe door closing, but it really can’t be both of us, and there’s no reason for Vertigo/Kurt to toy with Batman, rather than just outright moving to take him over. We also clearly can’t just leave these kids alone, no matter what attitude improvements we’ve seen in the last few minutes. I finish up with a much lighter wink for Dick, than the no-nonsense, this is the play expression I’ve had up until then.
“Lets go. Maybe you should put on your old Robin mask just in case though…”
Dick: As soon as Dinah has finished speaking, both Tim and Conner are looking at me to see if I’m going to argue with her. In a way, I think they’re ach trying to see if the two of us are in lock step like we seem or if we’re going to bicker the same as everyone else. They picked the wrong day to look for cracks in this current partnership. Especially since Dinah has very sound logic to what she proposes. I’m not offended; Conner made much the same argument. I don’t know the language and if it’s anything more than a broken tri-pod I’ll be useless. Leaving us back to the double bad option of picking between which room to expose the Kryptonian too.
“Wait. Was the kryptonite for me?” Maybe the Superboy is smarter than I’d believed. His face is saying that he’d been considering arguing with me about going in, but after Dinah spoke about no one being able to put him down there’s an obvious shift of the gears. “Oh, that’s awesome. You guys had a plan to take me out.”
…w.t.f. is going on? …where &^%$ am I…? Is he.. he is… this mother &^%$ is hugging Batman and Robin.
“You’re stabbing me with the kryptonite right now. Aren’t you?”
“…is it working?”
“If you poke a little lower, we can talk about the first thing that pops up…”
“I hate you.”
A second later, I’m free of the grip. Not by Conner’s choice either. The cape is mostly for show, but it has filaments meant to be used in case of needing an escape. We’ve been in more death traps than you can count. I never thought I’d have to use them to escape a bear-hug from an adolescent Krypto-Clone, but here we are. This is the world we live in. ( Unless I really am dead in the next room. Which I may be starting to hope for. )
The Superboy releases Tim and squares up to Dinah. All of his antics aside, he seems to have a business face. I can see the cold-blue gleam in his eyes and a moment later he’s speaking carefully, “Four cells. Multiple armory caches. All shielded from view. With the cave itself also shielded, I would never have known these were here if I wasn’t inside the cave. Man, you guys are sick with all these overlapping securities.”
“I can see the surface technology. This vault of your’s is the same as the arctic base I’d been working with. Tech is the same. What you’re seeing is actually a form of Kryptonite, in a way. If you consider that kryptonite is just a meteorite cast off from Krypton’s explosion. This Vault of your’s is actually a kryptonite alloy, which Star labs calls krystallis, but is actually just a blending of two or more forms of kryptonite. You’ve got a virtual rainbow of it here. Synthetic though, this was all grown here. Probably in the base I was just talking about in the arctic, if what you said about how old skool bats got this.”
Everyone. Me included. Is standing there looking at the prattling teen, as he talks and talks right after Canary said they were ready to move. My look to her is yet another unspoken, ‘Are we sure about him?’ But before I’ve done more than glance the kid straightens up, rolls his shoulder… is he limbering up? I didn’t even know they did that.
At my side ‘Red Robin’ is tugging on the mask for his new suit and I’m a little surprised to see that it’s not a Domino Mask. In fact he’s wearing a full cowl, just like his original Red Robin costume. The colors are all wrong though. If everything else hadn’t cemented it for me? I think just seeing the radical colors on this costume, the gun, the knives… I’m pretty sure this is close enough to Red Hood right here, than I’m comfortable with Tim doing.
“We can talk about any mask you want, after this is over. I’ll open the door….”
Without anything really being handed to him for a duty, Tim’s moved behind the rest of us. There’s nothing for him to shelter behind, so he’s focused on making himself small. Crouching down and preparing himself to watch and help in any way he can. That is the Tim Drake that I know and I’m happy to see that, regardless of whatever else is changed about him, he’s still ready to do whatever needs to be done.
Dinah: I’m not surprised about anything that happens after I finish speaking. Not Dick’s lack of argument, because he promised to back my play so long as I wasn’t being a dumbass, and I know I’m not being a dumbass. There’s this gut feeling that you learn to recognize and go with. Calling it a feeling of peace is wrong, because there’s never any peace in the moment leading up to danger that you plan for and can see coming. Rightness; where you know that, barring something you had no knowledge of, your course of action is the correct one. It’s probably more difficult for most people, when they’re not 100% sold on their own skills and experience, because then you second guess. With everything that we’ve gathered about our problem, and our foe, and the tools at our disposal this is the best strategy I can come up with.
Short of asking them to find the scorched Earth failsafe backup #3, that I am equally sure exists in the maze of plans that was Bruce and his methodology. Me, I’m settling for two backup plans in Dick and Tim. I’m also not surprised that Conner put two and two together after my emphasis on their not being able to stop him, or that he thinks it’s great. The hug, though. The expressions on their faces. It’s so ridiculous in this moment that I can’t help it. I let out a short, singular laugh. It’s all I allow myself, with a shake of my blonde head, I’m turning back towards where I know the door is. I’m listening to what Conner’s saying but I’m also ready go. Right now. I want this over with before anything else manages to go wrong or complicate matters. I’ve shrugged my shoulders at Dick, carrying the motion over into lifting arms overhead, interlocking my knuckles and stretching.
I miss ‘Drake’ in his full glory since I’ve already turned my back on the group, stepping up to the wall.
“Stay out of view, as much as you can.”
Once the door’s open, I’m striding through, all ballsy and brash as ever with my arms folded across my chest to match the glower on my face. On the surface it’d probably seem like sheer idiocy to enter a room that I just had to flee a few hours ago, against a foe I hadn’t been able to dent. But then, I am the same person that at fourteen demanded to be taken with a Black Ops team, because fuck you. There’s nothing physically defensive in my posture, just emotional in those folded arms.
“Tell me. I want to know why.”
The honest truth is I do want to know. It will probably eat at me, when it shouldn’t, but I also know I’m a professional at pushing aside emotional ‘crap,’ even when it’d be better for everyone involved. Especially me. If I could square up and face it like I would a regular fight.
Dick: “Back so soon? Couldn’t stand to be apart any longer, eh?”
The one thing that our heroes didn’t do before enacting this plan of their’s? Check the monitors. Dinah steps in to Kurt Lance sitting upon the singular piece of furniture in his room. A cot. Which is more a slab, built not to move. It occupies the center of the room, without any padding or anything that can be removed. In fact the entire cell is much the same thing. With only the projector and tri-pod as the exception. It’s a strange setup in fact, one that Dick is just now taking notice of. Last time the door was open he was fixated on closing it, not looking inside.
“Tell you why? Why what? Why am I here? Why your brother? Why do I want you, specifically you? Why do the flowers bloom and the sky rain?” Kurt’s expression, his mannerisms, they’re all so very laid back. He’s not concerned. Not about Dinah, not about the open door. He’s simply not concerned. “There are so many things you might be asking about. Is it dealer’s choice then?”
Even as he’s speaking there’s a blur. Blue/Red flashing in from outside. Dick Grayson is one of the few heroes that worked with the original Superman. He isn’t surprised at what he sees, but that doesn’t make it less impressive. Dinah’s old enough to remember Superman, but did she ever work with him directly to see him in action? Even Tim, several feet back from the door and out of the immediate line of sight, takes a short breathe that signals his surprise. He’s seen Conner in action, but only in the form of sports where there was definitely some holding back.
“Let’s start with why him? Why you? Let’s be rather forward shall we? You and Your brother are one atom that has been split in two. Through him, your power could crack entire worlds or turn them in to a paradise. The two of you, when joined are Gods.”
It isn’t the blur that clues Kurt Lance in to what is happening. Conner is moving too fast. He’s viewable, but his actual actions are nothing more than a blurry after-image. Affording no one the view of what he’s actually doing. Dinah, Tim and Dick know only because they’re aware of the plan. Vertigo’s view is that of what Kurt Lance can perceive; a gust of wind, the blur of blue/red and then… the projector being moved.
“It won’t work.”
“But that isn’t what you’re asking is. You want to know why the tone was such as it was. You want to know if there’s anything left of your brother or if he’s been perverted to the point of no return.” Spreading his hands there’s a conciliatory open gesture that is what you might do if you wanted to show the authorities that you’re unarmed. “Symbiotic. That is the nature of my bond, to a Host. Kurt has always wanted you. His desire for your connection drives him to fight for control. He’s struggling right now, but it’s been too long now. He’s spent years accepting this fate.”
Click. Click. The blur of Superman has slowed completely. In his hand is the projector that they’d been discussing, but as he works the kryptonian technology it does little more than sound as if it is a car that turns over, but doesn’t ignite the fuel that would turn it on. “I did say it wouldn’t work.”
“What say we start over, shall we? What is your name, sweet boy and what can you do for me?” Vertigo barely glances in Conner’s direction and ‘Superman’ starts to feel the invasion of his mind. “Be civil, Dinah. There’s no need to scream. There will be plenty of that later. When we’re alone.”
“…nnh…” To his credit, Conner doesn’t drop the device or do some dramatic grab at his temples in a vain attempt to fight whatever it is that’s going on. His hands are moving so quickly that even in slow motion, later, when they try to review the footage they won’t be able to clearly see what sequences he’s even trying. “… bleh.. not cool at all man… stranger dangerin it’s worst form…”
“Have you realized that I have no intentions of leaving? The moment I saw your pretty little Martian’s mind, I knew her friends would come to reclaim me. You think if I wanted out, that I would just stand here and let you throw me around the room?” His gaze shifts back and forth to Dinah and Conner again, back and forth. Once again Dinah is going to be flooded with the memories of her Brother’s life. Not -her- memories, Kurt’s memories. His impressions. His feelings. His take of how each memory was to him. The loss of loved ones, the love and protectiveness of Dinah. “Oh, I know what you were asking now.”
“Why did the Dark Knight pull me out of that little hole in the middle of no where? Do you think he did it to save your Brother? To save you some great heart-ache? Perhaps that was his original intent, but it took only a handful of times in this room for your great detective to come around to my way of thinking. Just as your Kryptonian will and the Martian. Then their friends.”
It’s at that very moment that a tiny little red dot appears upon Kurt Lance’s forehead. The creature’s eyes lead Dinah and Conner in order to look down the little hall for the first time. Following the infrared light to it’s origin. He showed no interest at all in Dick Grayson the day before, whom was clearly visible just outside the door, but there’s clearly interest now.
“From what I gather this world is already on the brink of War, it won’t take my Pestilence long to give them the little push they need. I looked upon him and behold, a pale horse. His name that sat upon him was Death and Hell followed with him.”
Dinah: “You’d like to think that, I bet.”
I try to meet his laissez-faire attitude with one of disdain, which isn’t all that hard, even though there’s warning bells sounding loud and clear in the back of my skull already. The tone, and mannerisms, are all supreme confidence which you’d think shouldn’t be happening in the middle of a prison cell. This is an old being, probably ancient, who has been from host to host, inciting their wars and spreading their influence. I’d really meant why Kurt had wanted me, though all the other answers will work, too. I’m just trying to distract, and there’s a high probability regardless that anything I’m told either isn’t real, or is tainted.
Do I buy into the potential? We just sent out a half-God to run interference in the skies, but the word is so frequently used to designate power in relationship to the masses. Titans, as the name had started to slowly stick for Wonder Woman and her friends. My head cocks in confusion when he tells me it won’t work. Joining as Gods? Making a paradise which I fail to see an application for, and I’ve tried to be fairly creative with my powers a time or two. He’s moved on to what I had really meant though, before his assertion about ‘it not working’ makes sense. If it were point and shoot it should have gone off by now, and my eyes widen as Conner’s zipping around, which I’d felt more than seen as wind moved my hair, stops.
“Civil? Oh you really don’t know me at all…”
Conner is used to having his head screwed with, used to not trusting what senses tell him and resorting to the backups of others. He’s told us this already. I’ve only heard him make a noise that sounds even vaguely like discomfort once before, and that was after I’d point blank screamed in his ear. It’s starting, and he’s still trying to work the machine, splitting his focus between the mental assault and getting the machine to work. Which might never work. Then the memories are back, the images swimming in my head and behind my eyes, and I … am not used to this sort of mental intrusion. I don’t have memories of my own, they were taken from me, or in this case precisely and surgically altered. I’m seeing things I remember, things I know happened, but from a different side. Trying to be a brave little badass, and distract and bolster my family through my mother’s cancer, and her death. Loss after loss, and attention that focused more, and more narrowly on the remaining relatives, even as my power and confidence and body bloomed. Kurt’s reactions to all of it.
Fucking villains and their monologuing… the further we go in those thoughts, the more the emotions and impulses behind it makes my chest tighten, and stomach turn. I’m reliving a different angle of literally everything in my life I’ve ever buried, along with things that were exorcised and it’s overwhelming. Everything is swimming a little when I open my eyes though… I don’t actually know when I closed them in the first place. He’s just looking back and forth. Back and forth between myself, and Conner, talking about Bruce. Talking out his ass. Or. Is he? What if it was never going to work? Oh, Alfred. It was him that pointed out the machine in the first place. Led the horses to water. What if Bruce orchestrated his own death not to infiltrate the Court of Owls, but to try and escape this? Or even worse, what if he didn’t?
I’m already shifting before I see that little red dot, before everyone notices it and traces it visually back. I was moving forward, I’d been trying to not block the projector before, but now I move closer to that cot, trying to interfere with the view of Conner working away at lightspeed on our Hail Mary that may not ever work. I feel like I’m swimming in my own mind, except at the moment it isn’t. When we all look at that little laser spot, though, the no rises up in my mind. I focus on that clear, and hard. He’s already in here, I feel like I’m filling up, and instead of letting my thoughts go even a little to how to end this, I fixate on the ones that I usually wouldn’t. Instead of debating how to do this, because Conner’s predecessor and I had done this before, but screaming at Kurt earlier tonight had done basically nothing, so why had it worked then? I focus on the loss, and the hurt, and the trauma, and not on ways to get in close enough. Not on whether or not I can get Vertigo to let me wreak havoc. Kurt’s thoughts I’ll get lose in, I think, so i’m left with the things that are mine to claim, and hold onto tooth and nail, and they’re dark, and they hurt, but they’re mine.
My eyes are watering, nausea and the echo chamber of emotions that my skull is right now making it very easy to do, actually I probably couldn’t help it even if I was trying to avoid looking affected. Not thinking about how I refuse to put that little red dot, and what it means, on my friends. No longer putting myself just between Conner and Kurt, but now lurching closer, trying to block that shot with my own body.
“Kurt I’m so sorry. I should have protected you better then. I won’t let them…”
It’s the first time out of both encounters that I actually try to touch him, fingers reaching for his face, even as I turn my face towards the door, letting out a shriek that mostly strafes the wall, rather than making it through the doorway, absorbed by the material like it had been before.
“Hnnnf… these walls..”
Dinah: Half of a lifetime of memories, answering the question so many moody teenagers ask in literature and film: would anyone even notice if I was never there? The differences are at the same time slight and gargantuan, threatening to change everything I thought I knew about myself, and enforcing it as well. Was it a kindness to make me forget him, and everything about him? Yesterday, it was easy to offer the benefit of the doubt. Right now, even queasy as I feel, I think I’d answer in the opposite. I am not sure any of it was done with any of my well being a concern. Not all of it. Being alone, fighting through everything alone, and dealing with or ignoring my shit alone had been my always. How I’d always done it, as I lost person, after person, until I was the last one standing, and told myself I was okay with keeping it that way.
Those eyes. It’s jarring, and sedately beautiful all at once. And then I’m swallowed up, in what redefines a Eureka moment, showing me exactly how small minded, how this moment and not the big picture my thinking had been. Despite what I might have claimed about my massive ego, how grossly I’d been underselling my potential and the ways that I thought my power could actually work. So this is what it’s like. Having senses so lit up, and on fire, so much input from so many things all at once and it takes me a moment, or I suppose a fraction of a moment, to realize that this is all happening at once. Stacked one on top of the other in a cascade that I would have missed. Then it’s not so hard to imagine exactly how far I could go in order to disrupt it. All of it. How that could snowball, or how it could all be stilled and stopped.
The gun firing, despite me now being between it and the target. The accusation of one brother to the other. The single-minded effort of the hero beside me to complete the task he’s been asked to do. Music that should be out of place, but at the same time… then I realize I’m not actually seeing any of this with my eyes, but I may as well be. It’s all so clear.
My apology had been in that moment a ruse, words spoken to provoke a specific reaction, to let me get close.
I want you to know Kurt doesn’t blame you for the choice you made.
Did I really make a choice? He did. He chose to sacrifice himself, not seeing any other way, he had that feeling in his gut of rightness, in the face of everything that he knew, and what he could count on the reactions to be. That my choice then became to either let his choice accomplish nothing, or to do that one unthinkable thing. That thing that we don’t do, as has been said over and over tonight alone, and so many nights before it.
In that second, I’m springing from the floor, the touch of my hand to Kurt’s face becomes tackling him onto the cot, out of the trajectory of that incoming bullet. The decision that I’d already made two seconds ago suddenly seems so much more tragic in the wake of what I’ve seen, and know, the emotionless pragmatic tactic of last resort has become, in an instant, the same one that half of my life was shifted in order to save me from. And here we are all over again, because someone couldn’t leave it alone. Had to play God, and do things that were not meant to be done.
I don’t have to scream, though I desperately want to vent that rage and frustration and hopelessness on the world, instead I am for once in my life. Twice, I suppose. Doing as I’ve been asked to do. Pressing my lips to the side of Kurt’s head, with a whisper just for his ear.
“Never again. I love you.”
That’s all it should take, the sound, the vibration, the tiny delicate parts of any ear that amplify those inputs and send them to a brain, the simultaneously most incredible and resilient part of a human body, and the easiest to disrupt, to break, to damage and to still.
Dick: There is beauty in power. In fact scholars have said for eons that the beauty of it is at the core of the psychology behind why it corrupts. You’re taken in by what you see or perceive and each time it becomes easier to do so. As you take that power in to yourself, whether it be physical power like metahumans or political power or even emotional power, each time it becomes easier to look at. This in fact diminishes, you constantly chase it because to see that same beauty and feel it the same way you’ll always need more. The perpetual hunger that leaves you spinning in a never ending cycle of chase, attain, diminish, chase, attain, diminish… on and on until you’re sickened by the every lasting dizziness of trying to attain it. A sort of Vertigo.
This may be the first time that Dinah has experienced that sort of power to her own personal knowledge, but she now knows it’s happened before. She knows that the power came at a great cost. Her Brother’s life in sacrifice to the creature that threatened them. Not just them but the world. He died a Hero, even if that loss of life came at the hands of the person he cared most for in this world. History has a way of repeating itself. Whether by natural design or unnatural machination, it seems to come in cycles. So many things in our world are these vicious cycles that we indulge in, unable or unwilling to break them, so we endure them again and again.
It isn’t the sudden movement that obscures Kurt’s little spark from those eyes. If anything the creature revels in her choice to save it’s life. Somehow seeing it as a defining moment when Sister makes the same choice as Brother. Each accepting it as the Path they shall walk. Never suspecting that even as they land, flattened upon the simple cot, that her next words would be the undoing of everything it knows.
“..N-no.. you c-can’t..”
She can. She does. The words echo through the body of her brother in such a way that there is no time for salvation. The Kryptonian even still struggles with the intrusion. A cell adjacent from this one even now hears the screams of the Martian who objects to her Master’s demise. Blood trickles from the Kryptonian’s nose, as the Martian comes apart literally at the seams. With Kurt Lance remaining hole only for a moment. That half-purple hue that covers his unnatural form dissipating as the creature seeks salvation in Dinah herself. For one single heart-beat, Kurt Lance and Dinah Lance are linked by his hands clenching her forearms. Her lips pressed to his ear. Her words echoing through the entire cell, through the entire cave.
As attuned as she is to the sonic vibrations of everything (not just the cell, the cave, the mansion or even just Gotham City), she can hear almost hear her brother’s power shifting. Denying Vertigo access to the power he might need to escape this fate. Like a tuning form that is hit with the right harmonics becomes a magnet, so too does Kurt Lance pull in to himself all the power he had been enhancing. In doing so, it leaves Vertigo bereft of it’s chance to leap from one body to the other. Even in this moment of great heroism, there is only so much a Human can do with someone like this. He did not exaggerate his position in the cosmic balance of life and death. That clarity in Kurt’s eyes that shines with fresh wet tears for Dinah starts to fade…
As Kurt Lance’s last breathe sounds like a whirlwind in her ears, she can actually hear the emotion drain out in it. The Fight is over for her Brother. Vertigo was wrong. Kurt had never given up. He’d been waiting for this opportunity and his last breathe is a thank-you to the one who freed him. A final spark. Ignition. His death does not echo in Dinah’s ears, because she is consumed by the sound of life beyond the walls of the Cell or the Mansion. Out there. Everywhere. His sacrifice, her sacrifice, allows that the start of every life to begin with a single breathe. A baby is born.
Moments later the reconstituted form of Kurt Lance is torn asunder by the vibrations that ripped every atom of his body apart from the concussion force of five words. Molecule by molecule he breaks apart until there is not even dust left behind.
“Oh. Tweety.” Shockingly enough there’s no joke made about the projector not working. Nothing to be said about his big Hero Moment equating to a Richard Pryor joke. Even the name he uses, is not in jest but the same term of endearment he’s used repeatedly since they first met. “… you’re clear. He’s.. gone. There’s not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake.”
It’s as if Kurt Lance and Vertigo never existed.
Dinah: This life, that we debated if it even mattered since he had already been dead. That I’d tried to wall myself off from since the moment I even learned he existed. Tried to deny the reality of, and then once I had to accept he’d been real, tried to keep myself impartial to. That wall’s had cracks from the get go, little feelers creeping in, little inklings, and a collection of what ifs. Each and every scrap of the history that I learned, what we’d done, what Bruce had or hadn’t done, what they might have meant. Ordinarily I’m the first person to kick someone’s ass if they complain about fair, or what they deserve, but it’s not fucking fair. I know what I lost. Know what I’ve been missing. Feel it in every little bit of my being.
And in the world around me, because the other prisoner is shrieking. More sound that I can feel. Sense? It’s everything and nothing all at once, from Spoiler’s gasp as she wheels her chair around, to the water dripping further back in the cave, feet scraping pavement in Metropolis and beyond. That wail of confusion and intrusion of the baby. It’s everything and everywhere, and at the same time as I’m feeling it all, and then it’s gone. Leaving me clutching my brother for an eternity and an instant all at once, I want desperately to close my eyes and not watch, but I can’t do it. The relief and release is even more deafening than M’gann, or everything else, and I hold on until there’s nothing, and I’m trying to wrap myself around… nothing, which looks a lot like assuming a fetal position on top of the cot.
Not even a sub-atomic particle left for them to remake. I know he’s trying to comfort me, to tell me that I’ve done it, that it’s over. What my brain’s telling me is he’s gone, like he never existed in the first place. Like they never had. And now all I have is knowledge of what he experienced and felt, and lived, and what we did. Twice. Yes, there’s what we saved, too. But in the vacuum of what could have been, of all that power, the connection, left clinging to nothing, I’ve never felt more empty in my entire life. It’s like my throat’s caved in, and… oh. No. Wait. That’s just the sensation that comes right before the single sob that escapes before I realize what’s happening and choke it down.
Crush it down. Push myself upright with one hand, while the back of the other brushes harshly across my eyes, and cheek on the return trip. Swing my legs over the cot and get my ass moving towards the door.
“Good.” It’s not. It is but it’s also not, and I force my mind onto that ‘is,’ and tackling the next phase of this problem. “Check on your friend. What’s the situation with Raven?”
Dick: For whatever it’s worth, Conner makes no effort to console Dinah. Just those couple words which were not meant exactly to console, but to educate her that the sacrifice made was not in vain. Though he is often seen, due to intentionally giving the impression, that he is clueless? If anything shows that it is quite the opposite this is it. He knows what she just went through, because it’s coldly reminiscent of his own battle with Billy Batson not so long ago. The Boy doesn’t make any effort to impede Dinah, but he is also not leaping to obey her command. His attentions instead turn back to the projector that he spent the entire ‘Battle’ working on.
Outside the cell awaits a single person and it isn’t who Dinah’s likely expecting. Tim Drake’s new costume looks positively unforgiving, in comparison to normal, but the mask is once again out of place. “Things got a little … odd … out here too. As far as I can tell, Wonder Woman found over Gotham Harbor, near the Iceberg. She was trying to use magic to find M’Gann, but Wonder Woman interrupted her.”
“The two of them have a small bit of history, but things were tense for a moment. Whatever you just did? Right at the moment you did it? Raven’s Human Side took control. Cassie was able to talk to her. She went the Honest route and Raven’s human side believed her. She called off the search, on the condition that we present M’Gann and Conner to her for proof they’re okay and not prisoners.”
Ordinarily Timothy might not be so bold as to touch Dinah when it’s clear that her mood is foul like this, but there is a level of recent familiarity that he seems to believe gives him a little leeway. So it’s his uncovered, bare hand, that catches Dinah before she can pass him by. Through all of this he’s seemed very angry, but in this one singular moment there’s clearly concern written on those youthful features. “Dinah, don’t do the thing where you flick a switch and shut the lights off.”
“Dinah,” my voice calls from just up the stairs, outside of the infernal vault. “You’re going to want to see this.”
By ‘this,’ I mean the sight of Alfred Pennyworth. The Butler did it. Literally. When she finishes the last step, it’s pretty difficult to not see and know exactly what happened. When the whole plan was forming Alfred had gone to the armory, presumebly to pass out the various gear we’d need. Like the comm-links he passed to Cassie and Stephanie. None of them had even taken a second to think about him. He wasn’t given a specific task other than over-sight, the same task he performs every night as ‘Penny-One.’ Tonight he was apparently intending to take an active role and even now he looks quite guilty about the whole thing.
In one hand I’m holding the Butler’s shoulder. In the other I’m holding what looks like an old vietnam era long range rifle. It’s been retrofitted with a new age scope and laser sighting. Judging by the knot on Alfred’s jaw, there’s been some sort of violence that resulted in his disarming. The Bat-Cave is actually about as quiet as it’s ever been. Even Spoiler is silent right now, despite the hand she’s got to her ear piece, she seems to be listening to both sides of what is playing out.
“You shouldn’t have had t’ do it a second time, Miss Dinah. I wanted t’ spare you that pain, even if it meant losing another one of my kids to this bloody insanity.”
Dinah: I’m grateful that he leaves it where he does, and Lord help us all, doesn’t point out anything else that he might have noticed in the last few seconds. Maybe he was busy with the Kryptonian puzzle box project, or maybe he’s a friend that happens to be an awful lot like me. Striding out of Kurt’s … the… cell, I’d expected to see the looming Bat, and instead there’s Tim. Either that all took longer than I thought it did, or Dick had hustled somewhere else, which seems… strange. Like the rest of the last few days, that had felt like it both just happened, and was a lifetime ago. I suppose, as my perceptions and thoughts go, it actually was.
“All the boys love her, and the girls love to hate her. Sounds like a tune I know.”
It sounds a little harsher than I actually meant it, but still without bite, because my tone’s a little too flat for that as I make my offhand observation. It’s a little forced, in an effort to at least talk, and respond rather than letting myself think about anything else. There actually was a demon half? Maybe this really is all above my pay grade, too.
“Okay may be debatable for the Martian, but hopefully we can make her understand that wasn’t our fault… Mostly wasn’t our fault.”
Business as usual. We’re just all moving on, and going back to business as usual. Is that a mantra in my head, or internal disbelief? Are we going to pretend that I didn’t just kill someone? That they didn’t all just watch me do it, and that it’s not preserved ad nauseum in security systems, and backup security systems? Which would be worse. Getting a pass, because Kurt never was, and won’t be remembered, or having guilt not just coming at me from an internal angle? Maybe this is why we don’t do ‘it.’ I’d thought about it before now. Before I knew about my brother, or my past. About whether or not I’d be able to cross that line if it had to be done, and I’d always thought the answer would be yes.
Which it was. I just didn’t know to expect…this. Tim’s hand on my arm pulls me up short, and my eyes move from the passage ahead of me, and the stairs, over to his face. Shit, it’s like he knows me, or something.
“I have to. Just for right now, Tim.”
Except they’re not off, it’s more like the shades have been pulled and there’s a lightswitch rave going on inside that I can’t make quit even though I’d really like to. My voice sounds raw to me, like I had actually been screaming for hours instead of the single short one that wouldn’t have been enough to even fatigue me a little on most nights. One of those partyers is screaming ‘liar’ at me, even as I clear my throat and lay a hand on top of his. Anything else I was about to say diverted by the sound of Dick’s voice from up the stairs. Guess he didn’t get all that far after all. Following the sound of it, up and out of one hole into the much bigger hole above, until I stop with a foot on each stair and look at the tableau in front of me.
Eyes move from the gun, to Alfred and back, to the timing of the sounds I heard which gets a little hazy but his admission is plenty of confirmation for what might have happened if Dick hadn’t intervened. If my switch wasn’t flipped, I’d have demands, and accusations to screech right now, whether he deserved to have that pointed at him or not, but it’s done with, and I instead just speak an absolute truth.
“I had to. That wouldn’t have stopped him, Alfred.”
That first bit might selfishly be more for me than him, and if he hadn’t been interrupted I don’t want to think where that would have gone. I don’t have to. It’s over, but I’m trying to carry on as if it’s not. Like there’s one more problem. Something else to go on and face. That next task so that I don’t have to stop, which means I finish my trek up the stairs, sparing a hitch in that gait to lay a hand on Alfred’s other shoulder, before I’m headed for the computer terminals.
Dick: To say that there’s a lot going on would be an understatement. We have Alfred Pennyworth, trying to take the sin of murder off of Dinah’s shoulders. There’s Tim who seems to be floundering, under the accusations and distrust of the family around him. Not more than a handful of steps beyond him is Conner Luthor, who’s seemingly grown up ten years in two hours. Though to hear Dinah tell it, that was always there beneath the surface. Even now he’s trying to scoop his friend off the floor of yet another cell. If only to deliver himself and her to another ‘cosmic’ threat level female that calls herself the Raven. If you’re with me this far, then you get to take a look at Stephanie Brown, who’s currently having team girl-power with a Demigod. Oh and the Demigod? Just saved the day out there, with nothing more than honesty and heartfelt convictions.
I know better. Because I was here, in the Cave, playing at being the witness to everything I was able to ‘See.’ The entirety of what happened inside that Vault, played some role in what happened outside of it. Like the other cosmic shoe being dropped. Except this time. For once. That other shoe didn’t get to hit the ground. We managed to catch it before it caused yet another ripple in the pond.
Though Conner and Tim, each in their own way, seem to be allowing Dinah to deal with all of this in her own way? I move over to stand behind her. In much the same way that she’d done in passing Alfred, I put my hand upon her shoulder, but no sooner has it touched her than it’s squirming in to allow my fingers to touch her’s. The other hand is used to draw Dinah’s attention to what Spoiler is working on. Like I’d said before, the girl was taught how to work Timothy’s drones. Even now she’s got them at work tracking, analysing every move that Raven and Wonder Woman make in Gotham. The two otherworldly teenagers seem to be simply hovering out there, over the Harbor, idly talking about who the hell knows what.
Actually, I know exactly who knows what is being said. She’s sitting directly in front of Canary in the big chair, but she doesn’t seem to be offering any insights at all. In a time like this, the fact that Spoiler is not crowing about the sky falling or really talking at all? Tells me the only real bad news right now, is that there is no next thing on our plate just yet.
I’d heard what was said in that Cell right before I left to deal with Alfred. I also know exactly how it played out after that too, because the shot was taken before I’d even known for sure it wasn’t Tim doing it. Had she not moved Kurt Lance, it would have been Alfred that took the shot. It would also have not worked, just like she said. The Host couldn’t just simply die, it had to be destroyed without a trace left before. Nothing could remain or it’s simply possess something new. The plan had been to tuck the thing away in a true Kryptonian Prison, the Phantom Zone, but plans rarely last beyond first engagement. What transpired inside the cell, is not for anyone else to judge, I don’t think.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that everyone else is avoiding it for that very reason. My free hand raises up and for the very first time in the presence of any of these ‘Outsiders,’ I draw the cowl off my head and let hand lose at my back. The other hand gives Dinah a gentle squeeze, maybe the hint of a tug. Everyone else is tip-toeing. That’s never been my calling card.
“I’d offer to taze you, but I left my escrima sticks in my hobo pants,” the tone of my voice is just about the softest I’ve ever allowed it to be with Dinah Lance, and I know she may not wish to let the others see her in a moment of weakness, but I still offer the slightest tug to tell her she can come closer to me if she wants. “We should….”
“…. and then Tactile Telekinesis!…” Swoosh! The Superboy interrupts us, and is gone before anyone can even acknowledge him or the Green Skinned girl that he’d been carrying. The next time we hear his voice it’s over the comm-signals on the main computer. The kid is fast, I’ll give him that, for all the good it did us. “… Spoiler picked out a theme song for us… that makes us legit. Next step is business cards, Megs and Titan Branded Blow-Up Dinosaur Sextoys. It’s going to be glorious.”
As quickly as that soft moment had been offered to Dinah, I’ve reached down with my free hand to pinch her side enough to get her to jump. “Hm. Apparently, I’m not in Hell. Or Dreaming. I was hoping it was you. But, no. We’ve really got a Super Man, that wants to franchise blow up dino sex toys. I’m too old for this.”
Dinah: “That explains so much…”
Bless him, he’s trying, and he’s doing it in the exact right way for me to be completely unable to not respond. It wasn’t that I don’t appreciate what each of the others had done for me. Conner with his no judgement, matter of fact assurance that it was really over. Tim asking me to not shut down, which comes along with shutting out. Alfred, who we were all so mad at a very short while ago, trying the only way he could to shoulder the burden for me. Then there’s Dick, with the cowl off, and the unspoken offer. Well. Maybe not so unspoken, even if it’s interrupted, about when I lay my hand on top of his on my shoulder.
“…see? What did I tell you? You can’t not hear about it.”
I do want. Some little part of me, deep, deep down wants exactly what is being offered. But inside I feel like this vast, open nothingness. My universe was literally expanded to the universe minutes ago. My senses filled with everything, literally everything, until all the sudden they weren’t, and in the vacuum of that, I gave up the brother I’d lost for the third time. No amount of ‘it had to be done’ that I may say out loud, or to myself in my head, makes that feel any better. Maybe if I was a fucking monster it would, but I’m not. I guess that’s one of the consequences of being one of the good guys.
“That one wasn’t even yours, it’s not all about you all the time, Superjerk. Settling on an anthem after one option? Blegh. You’re the worst. There’s so many other options…”
Spoiler’s eyeroll, which I don’t see so much as intuit rolls her head back, and then swivels her chair in a complete circle from the momentum of an arm thrown across her face in an entirely melodramatic fashion. Carrying on like nothing out of the usual is going on, in a tone that makes it sound like she’s having the time of her life, like nothing just happened, and I can’t decide if I want to just latch onto that and go along with it, or punch her for having the audacity to be okay. Still probably the easiest target in the cave, but at least she’s not just the convenient distraction for Tim that I’d mentally filed her as up until now.
The pinch actually does take me by surprise, and I shift my weight quickly, twisting enough to grab his wrist before I really realize what I’m doing. To my incredible credit, I pull up short before I try to snap an elbow or anything unpleasant like that. Which I probably couldn’t manage with him in the batsuit unless I really tried.
“I don’t know, you could have fooled me.” Alright. That was out before I could stop it, and is a little more on point for how I’m actually feeling than I ever intended to let past my lips, and I let out a soft cough, before pushing on. “I knew I should have gotten my lawyers working faster on trademarking all of their names. Admittedly, intimate accessories wasn’t the merch I was planning on peddling, but when in Rome…”
The words are very Dinah Lance on the surface, though the sarcasm hasn’t quite made it back into my tone, and I fix my attention on the monitors and try to make sense out of what Spoiler was actually doing, because it looks like too much information to be just monitoring the SuperTeens. The harbor, the Narrows, I’m pretty sure that is someone busking on a corner.
“Why on Earth would we need business cards… We’re not making blow-up dinosaur sex toys. We’re not making any form of sex toys. And I actually sort of liked the last track better. Can you play that one again?”
They really did, actually, have music playing over their comms the whole time, didn’t they? At the risk of sounding like the eggplant menace in the chair, I can’t even with these guys. Though, at the same time I can’t help feel a small hint of relief at how easily and suddenly that all seemed to come together. Spoiler’s clueless optimism and Wondergirl’s naive view on how the world should work. Except maybe Stephanie’s not actually as dumb as she acts, not unlike a boy in blue I know, and the jury’s still out for me on Cassie.
“You and me both, Dick. You and me both.” I blow out a breath of air so hard that it rustles the hair hanging near my face a bit, and I straighten my posture. There was nothing for me on the monitors to latch onto needing ‘doing,’ and I just have to keep going. “I need a drink. And probably to let Sheriff Trevor know that…”
No. I can’t. I can’t do this right now. I need to leave.
Dick: She’s right. You can’t actually not hear about this strange ability that our Superboy has. Tactile Telekinesis. For just a moment I’m lost in thought, memories back to a different time but the same place. I’d been the one sitting at the computer where Spoiler sits now, Bruce behind me dark and brooding. Alfred to the other side trying to foist fresh tuna sandwiches off on the two of us. We’d been talking about the news. A ‘Hero’ had made headlines that evening when he caught reporter Metropolis that had been ejected from an airplane. Topping that, he’d later caught the entire airplane itself. The three of us watched the footage multiple times. We’d zoomed in. There’d been software analysis. I’d settled on ‘Holy fucksticks, that’s cool.’ While Afred had told me to watch my language, Bruce had commented that it was strange how Superman’s had not caused the friction of motion to peel Lois Lane’s skin off. He’d hypothesized that Superman had some sort of field that must extend his invulnerability from himself to others…
Bruce. Always thinking. Always working out the problems, before anyone else even knows they are problems. He’s alive out there. Possibly never died, but at worst he’s been re-animated by the Lazarus Pit. We’ve spent the last couple weeks thinking the worst. Believing that the Man we loved may have set all fhis in motion as nothing more than a crucible of tests to force us to do what he needed. As if he’d treated us as nothing but pawns. Even now when we know it is likely that he was not under his own power, all of those worst fears are valid because all of them are things we each know to be true about him. He would absolutely do every single thing we believed he had done.
That makes the truth a harsh reality. While he is innocent of the crimes, he is not so innocent of being the architect of our believing him capable. His Methods would never have allowed us to deal with this situation. None of the trust or friendship that these kids are showing, the hope in spite of what we just faced, would be there because Bruce would never have fostered it. I’ve never been more certain than I am, as Dinah starts to talk about needing a drink and to make a phone call, that I’ll never be able to be Bruce’s Batman. It’s also made me just as certain that the world we live in may not need a Batman, but if it does that Batman has to be a different one that it’s known up until now.
““I didn’t say it was mine! Our’s.”
““Spoiler’s got a point, though. We did only hear one option…”
““How are we going to work the Brand, if we don’t have business cards? M’Gann likes the blow-up merch idea…”
““… I’ve already ordered cards, they should be at the Tower …”
“What was the last track? I was busy being mind fucked, without a reach around…”
Dinah’s movements are such that if I were anyone else, this were any other time, I’d be surprised at how she reacted. How fast or potentially lethal she reacted would be impressive. As it is, she’s barely secured my wrist, when I twist my hand inside of her’s and have her forearm. We’re still standing like that when I watch her eyes bolt across the screen. The need for a drink, the call to the sheriff, those come a second later when she starts to turn to leave, only to realize someone hasn’t released her. On my face is a look that says so many things. The deep blue eyes are filled with understanding. The set of my jaw speaks of determination. Even the way my head inclines, speaks to the fact that I’ve got a promise to keep.
“… whoah whoah whoaaaaah… who said you’re the Leader, Tiny Tim? You don’t even have a code name right now.”
“I picked the team. I’m building the base. I even bought the business cards…”
“Nope. Sorry. Wonder Woman’s the boss of me. Freakshow picked the theme song. Those are way more important than monetary interests. You’re not the only rich boy here.”
“… wait.. Spoilers on the team? Does she want to be…”
“See? You don’t even know who’s on the team. Wondy’s the leader. Spoiler’s the Deejay.”
A step is taken, by me toward her. Another step brings me close enough to Dinah that she’s the only one that is going to hear what I have to say. Even though what I say isn’t even something private. “You said it, Di. You and me.” My head turns just enough to bob and direct her back to the computer screen. “Spoiler, was that a Bank Robbery on the police scanner? Send the GPS to the Batmobile. Canary and I will handle it.”
“Oh and Stephanie. Tell the Titans to get out of my &^%$ city. Now.”
Dinah: “But what would we even use business cards for…”
“Here, I’ll start it again, but there’s more with way more epic beats deeper in… Really shouldn’t rush the entrance music picks though. Just sayin’.”
I think my eye’s actually starting to twitch. It could also be the corner of my mouth attempting to make an upward turn that the rest of my body is in complete and utter opposition to, however. It’s hard to deny that this feels… better, though. Listening to them yammer back and forth at one another, but the tone’s so utterly different this time in comparison to where they were at a very short time ago. Clear and present reminder of how very little it takes to spin your world on its head, how one moment, one choice can make all the difference. We don’t actually get to hear the track, or at least I don’t because I’m not wearing a communicator. I can see that she’s done it, queued back up Cassie’s re-request of Young Volcanoes, but it doesn’t impede the comm chatter or come across any of the inputs. For specific ears only, apparently.
“Shouldn’t we get Flash and Shazam’s…
“God bless you… er… well… clearlyalreadydonetalkaboutunfairmeasuringstick… gesundheit!”
“..what? No, I wasn’t sneezing. Shazam is his name.”
I don’t get very far when I turn to spin on the ball of one foot and head for the vehicles to commandeer, brought up short by the grip on my arm as Spoiler’s snort of laughter echoes across the cave and she mutters to herself about who comes up with these things. It was probably not meant to be said out loud. Putting my shoulder into it, I give another tug to try and keep on going, but when that doesn’t work either I turn to face him, and Dick’s face says so much, and so much of it is what I don’t want to see right now. The kids are all apparently bonding over terrible music, and I want desperately to do exactly what Tim asked me not to do. Shut myself off, so I don’t have anything to lose like I always claimed was the case. The set of my mouth is irritation, but my eyes are almost pleading to be let go.
“I’m going to remember you said that, Con-L.”
“I’m kinda dealing with my own thing, but I guess if you guys need… wait do you not want me on the team…?”
“Dick, I don’t want to be the Black Canary right now…”
I haven’t tried to retreat as Dick comes in close, and talks under the back and forth. He’s not going to let me run. Despite one of the most honest things I’ve said since coming out of that cell, I already know he’s not going to listen. Not because he’s not listening, or doesn’t respect my need to shove this all down and compartmentalize like a fucking champ, but because he’s going to make me get back up on that horse. I’m making an awful lot of horse metaphors for someone that’s never been on one, but… everyone knows the gist of them. So I can fight, and push away, and go get drunk… where exactly? I’m probably still wanted, and there’s a pack of superteenagers hovering over the harbor making a spectacle of themselves. I justify to myself that the problem with the law is what signals my surrender, and the tension going out of that arm before I reverse angles and move towards the Batmobile.
“Totes is! There’s another one they haven’t been told about yet, too. Hey! Batleader says, and I quote, get the #$*& off my lawn, losers! Don’t make him come up there! …maybe not those exact words but… you get the point. Amscray! …but I’ll keep sending the tunes…”
Christ. Maybe I do need to punch someone after all.
Dinah: If you can believe it, city girl like me, I have actually been camping before. In an actual forest, with a tent and a campfire, and everything. All in all, it was a pretty wet and miserable experience, which I had been unable to complain about even once, because Oliver had intimated that he should probably go solo, since I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Ass. The whole thing had been unnecessary, since we could likely have hiked out to the place we’d needed to be, handled business, and gotten back in a single day. He probably didn’t have the stamina for that, though. Which I may have intimated heavily myself once we were there.
I can handle uncomfortable and non-ideal sleeping conditions, though. I’ve been an accomplished daytime sleeper since high school, and the thuds and voices from my bar don’t keep me up at the apartment in Gotham. I trained under sensei that delighted in tormenting students and putting them off their game. All in all, the Nightwingmobile is not the worst place I’ve ever tried to rest, and after the little train compartment I’m finding nearly anything at all feels damn roomy.
Leaving Rapid City hadn’t been much of a problem, on account of them having to deal with Deathstroke at their highly secured, secret base. Finding a place to stop after what wasn’t nearly as exciting of a day for me as it had been for Dick was convenience more than availability. Just because NOWHERE’s off our asses for the moment doesn’t mean they’re not still watching out, and friend or not even I don’t want to require a Supersave twice in one week. The drive probably would have been faster if we weren’t on side, back, and nothing roads, but the view’s not half bad here if you like flat, flat nothing and the occasional weed that’s taller than the other ones.
There’s an over exaggerated stretch, as I’m reaching arms up and over my head. Outwards as I curve my back and let my head hang for a moment.
“Ahhh. So this is what non-toxic air is like. Do you have any more hobo clothes in there? Fishnets at any kind of stop seems to have gotten me the looks that say I probably could’ve rustled up some cash for a hotel after all…”
The lack of physical money wasn’t actually what was keeping us out of lodging with a real roof and walls, because I’m positive he’s got some stashed somewhere on him. On the road, off the road, is less likely to have some random, well meaning, law abiding citizen decide to be ‘helpful’ for the authorities.
Dick: Even if it’s DINAH LANCE and her nameless sidekick NIGHTWING that made every headline across the country? I’m not going to just abandon her. Not only would that probably play ill on any future scoring chances, but… she still hasn’t answered my &^%$ questions. I’d love to know why we went to all this trouble only to have her pull me out of there before I could get access to whatever that was. I know what I saw, but what I saw didn’t make a lot of sense. It’s left me driving. Driving some more. Driving even more than that.
While Dinah slept. Snoozed. Cat-napped. What do you call it when the girl next to you seems to all appearances unconcious but can recite every lyric from the last song that just played. Even if it was Achy Breaky Heart remixes and Southern Baptist Church Music. Because Bible Belt and even a multiple thousand dollar radio can’t find another channel. Picking up enough signal for a good playlist off any sort of internet is a chance equal to that of hitting the lotto.
I’ve had to remind myself more than a dozen times so far; Someone would recognize Dinah if we went mainstream. It happens to be a problem that I’ve been pondering as we move towards home, but there are a lot of factors involved that I’m not entirely sure I follow or understand. Why do they want Dinah so much being chief among them. That’s a question that I obviously get, because I do too. I’m just not sure I understand why they want her when they have a superman, alien shape-shifters, wizards and matter re-arrangers. They seem to create their own Deathstroke, Huntress or Superman even, every other weekend.
“The Hobo clothes were actually authentic. I gave a guy a diamond tipped dart for them. He’s probably having his first good meal right now.” Like we could be having, if we didn’t apparently do all of this for nothing Side-eyes are a way of things right now, but at least the view is better from my seat. “That last stop left me wondering if maybe we couldn’t have both earned some hotel money.”
“There’s actually cash in my utility belt. When we stopped to load up I grabbed a handful of the freeze dried bat-bucks. Just add water… instant go-bag-cash.”
Dinah: Complain more, at least he’s got a secret identity to default to. Which I don’t even begrudge him, truthfully. I made the ballsy choice long ago to depend on not much more than makeup to protect myself, mostly because I didn’t care to protect myself. If Dick Grayson is all over the headlines engaged in vigilante behavior then lets face it, that shines a spotlight on every other Wayne, adopted or otherwise. Suddenly Tim’s backing of the tower they’re building in California gets even more scrutiny. The various strange behaviors of Damien would become not just acceptable filthy rich eccentricities.
I think I might honestly just begin to assume that all of these Billionaire Playboys are actually vigilantes. Every single one. The Waynes. Queen. Luthor.
His comment, coupled with the weight of the sideways look that I don’t even have to be facing him to see has me lolling my head over onto my shoulder to look at Dick, mouth twisted in wry amusement, as I reach over and pat his cheek.
“Yeah, yeah. Like we could be having, too. But then we wouldn’t be having this excellent team bonding road trip. Maybe we should have loaded a few more people into the ‘Wingmobile and really made a go of it.”
Someone would probably murder Damien before the night was through. Or he would have killed someone for looking at him like that one fella had been checking out Dick. And Stephanie. Because she wouldn’t shut up, she might be the first to go, and I say that as someone who’s only ever interacted with her in a form where it’s perfectly acceptable to hit her when she’s obnoxious. It was, after all, how Grant trained me. The fact that he didn’t manage to throttle the banter out of me should probably be telling of my efforts on Spoiler. If she’s got one thing going for her its stubborn inability to quit when she should really, really stay down. Reminder that I may owe her an apology… which isn’t really my thing to do. Speaking of…
“I’d settle for knock-off imitation. Or nothing but that might actually get more attention. I knew we should have just gone back to the truck stop in Rapid City. Fleeced them for all their money… oh, shit, really?”
The laughter that’s creeped into my tone is probably a dead giveaway for the ridiculousness I’m about to propse.
“…any water? Do you have more of them? Can I pop one in your mouth and take out bills like you’re an ATM?”
I may be running on leftover adrenaline, disappointment, tension and not much real sleep right now. Combined with the entire situation we’re in, I may be reaching a bit for anything to keep the levity to a certain level. Namely because I owe Dick an explanation, and I’ve been trying, while pretending/attempting to sleep to put my thoughts together in the best way. I’ve felt second guessed a lot, and I know that isn’t his fault. He knew I was compromised when I didn’t, even if I feel now I would have made many of the same choices.
“Look. I’m sorry for the no explanation, seemingly pointless trip it… while it wasn’t a dead end, it wasn’t at all what I expected, and I got answers but… they weren’t what I thought they’d be and it kind of knocked the wind out of my crusader sails.”
Dick: “Dinah.” Uh, oh. Bat-voice. Danger, danger Will Robinson, danger! “Let me say this clearly; Hard. Pass.”
“About calling it the Wing-Mobile. I’ll put the pellet in my mouth,” comes the offsetting wryly delivered punchline. “So long as I get to choose how you then earn whatever comes out of it.”
She is not the only one with a sense of humor. I’ve been doing this even longer than her. Banter, I mean. I still remember the teen that barely said two words before breaking knuckles on a heavy bag. Humor is my thing. Not always good humor, but humor none the less. I’m not the only one who worries that the Cowl is going to rob that aspect of my life from me, but for now I’ve been able to maintain thanks to so many openings that Dinah and Damien, not to mention our lives, provide me.
There’s a long look afforded to her once she says something serious though. “Was that you admitting that I was right and this wasn’t all about someone tinkering with your head? Because that sounded like you veiled one unicorn, inside of another unicorn. In which case I just got a two unicorn apology, for the price of one unicorn.”
“What did you think the answers would be? And why do you now think the answers you did get, don’t measure up to those expectations?” Two days ago I wouldn’t have reached across the console to lay my hand on her knee, but today I’m actually thinking that might be the ounce of reassurance I can offer that she just might appreciate. “Before you left Gotham, the only thing you knew for sure was that someone stole something from you and used you when you were just a kid. Now you’re free of the Hatter, you said you got answers and we know now that Nowhere has some sort of designs on you specifically. None of that happened, if you didn’t leave Gotham.”
“Actually, I think that I was wrong about this from the start. I think it was the exact time for you to make this play.”
Dinah: There’s a moment where I think that somehow I’ve managed to break some rule of sanctity about pellets and putting them in his mouth, or maybe I’ve found the limit by triggering some long not spoken of trauma, so when it’s the nickname for the SUV I let out a snort, before leaning my head back against my seat, and kicking my feet up on the dash, eyes forward once again. I even let him leave his hand on my knee. Pushing it off would seem a little hostile and until something else springs that trap, we’ve been being nice. And, truthfully, the contact is nice. A different kind of nice.
“Well, what else are we going to call it? I made a judgment call that Dad Van was probably not sexy. And I wouldn’t go that far about the unicorns or the apologies.”
That wasn’t all what it was about, was it? It had certainly been made personal, and maybe the mode by which the news was delivered set it all up to be a whole lot more sinister. It has to be pretty awful if Deathstroke brings it to the plate, yeah? Bruce running the whole thing down ahead of me, apparently, and still opting to make it go away hadn’t helped the initial impressions either. Would it have been better if he’d just told me? You know, it’s easy to say yes. To blame someone not here, in a conversation that I can’t have.
“I thought I’d done something terrible, and I want to say I could deal with that, but not knowing the circumstances, or how much choice I had in it… maybe after Hatter that made the wound a little more raw.”
Folding my arms, and then bracing the tops of my angled thighs might almost be a vulnerable position if it weren’t for the set of my jaw, though the expression goes wry once more as I keep going.
“I thought maybe I could at least get some good mileage out of it, if I could stick it to NOWHERE where it would really, really hurt with the answers. But turns out I was just a big damn hero, who sticks her nose wherever she wants to stick it, who made a choice that I probably would make all over again tomorrow, brain chip or not.”
Which actually is a relief. That’s one of the things I’ve had to mull over since we bailed on Rapid City, in the middle of explosion.
“So, I guess it wasn’t a pointless trip. It just wasn’t the point I’d planned. Besides. I gave a living legend half a lap dance, and you almost accidentally unleashed Armageddon on the world because I asked you to, frankly it’s another day in the life, huh?”
Dick: “I don’t know what we’re calling it, but I know what we’re not calling it. This isn’t even my normal car. It’s from a safe house in Montana.”
With an exasperated roll of the eyes that almost makes my neck pop from the weight of it, I’ve let Dinah have her fun at my expense. As we’ve gone along, I’ve started to recognize my role in this dynamic. It’s ever changing, but essentially I’m the release valve on the pressure that Dinah’s built up for herself. She can handle the pressure that others exert with no help from anyone. That voice in her head that ultimately leads her to either throttling Russians on the streets or drinking herself comatose at home? They’re different. One of them I can help with, by not being overbearing. The other I can help with by getting out of her way.
“Dad Van. Just remember. These old jokes are going to haunt you when we start calling you the Silver Canary.”
From the conversation I’d listened in to, partially, added to what she filled me in on, during the trip up to Rapid City, I know topically what Dinah thought. Killing a brother would be traumatic to anyone, but to have it be the first time you’d found out about the existence of one also being the moment you found out that you killed him? I honestly can’t even imagine that well enough to empathize. I had to just harness the power of seeing my family die, to just lend my understanding of loss to her. Not that Dinah needed or wanted, but I’d wanted to let her know it was there.
Which amounted to a very quiet trip to Rapid City. The opposite of this return trip. Thankfully, because if I see another beet farm or corn field I’m going to give serious thought to pushing the big red button under my steering column. Hopefully none of that reaches my voice, “I’m not angling at a fight, but I want you to remember that the fight we did have was about why you needed to go ‘Now’ instead of ‘Later.’ That reason was a personal one. You had a hole in your life that you needed to fill. Dinah, you got those answers and came out of it without a scratch.”
“Finding out that you are, were, exactly who you and I, and everyone else, already knew you were? I put that in the win column,” so says the needless reassuring squeeze offered to her thigh, before I borrow one of her words to make a point. “Besides. While you were giving a lapdance to a World War One Veteran, I was looking at the strangest thing I’ve seen in a long time.”
“In the basement’s basement’s basement, which hasn’t had it’s air vents scrubbed since you were wearing a training bra. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I didn’t think I’d find some swanky blacksite prison. That only had one cell and that cell had all of the amenities of the Wayne Mansion.”
“Hermetically sealed, Wayne Mansion. Real Charles Mansony stuff. Made Arkham look like it did during No Man’s Land. I don’t know what kind of Armageddon was living there, but he was living high on the hog.”
Dinah: “What, they don’t all have names? And you say we, but it’ll probably just be you.”
Frankly, if I live long enough to be doing this while going silver, it might be a big enough tick in the win box for me to just roll with it. If my grandmother was any indicator, it’ll be White Canary, also no one dared call her anything but her original name. That I heard anyway, but I had no idea she was so… active. As long as she was. In hindsight I should have, because you don’t retire from this kind of life. Not for long, or not well. Ordinarily, that would be a flippant comment I’d make out loud. About dying relatively early. In the wake of everything that’s happened this year, and everything we’ve jointly learned as a group, I just… don’t.
“I feel like in the interest of the whole continued goodwill and getting along thing we were doing, that I should point out that anytime you start a sentence with ‘not trying to fight or anything buuuut…’, it basically says you know it’s fighting words about to come out of your mouth. Kind of like if I were to start what I’m about to say next with ‘not to say I told you so, Dick, buuuuuut…'”
The entire thing has amounted to a very strange month of my life. Knowing who I am has never, and I mean not once in the history of ever, been an issue for me. I had strong role models in every single aspect of my life, and beyond that a cocksure personality that would probably have existed even if I didn’t have the skills, and looks, to back it up. But I did. Which apparently made me the ball of fun I was as a teenager. Finding out you’ve been shifted, though, finding out there was a part of you, an important and traumatic part, that you didn’t even know was there? I suppose it’d probably rock most people at least a little bit.
“Half a lap dance. Pretty sure I could have funded the trip if I ponied up the rest of it. I was almost better looking than the real Black Canary they had working in there.”
His fingers pressing into the muscle of my thigh is weirdly reassuring and… no. I don’t suppose it is weird, that’s probably a normal gesture between people who are close enough for the touch to not be something else automatically. So when my arms unfold quickly and I grab the hand that’s touching me, it probably seems like it’s about to be forcibly removed but I hold it there.
There’s a pause, the hand not on his coming up as I pinch the bridge of my nose for a second, letting out a breath that sounds more like a hiss. Much like Slade using me to hunt down much more easily the thing he was after, and it had all clicked into place while I was ‘interrogating’ Steve Trevor, things that had been said in that conversation tumble into place with what my companion’s telling me about his adventure.
“Fuck, I’m really not on my game. A prison. An actual prison.”
And my brother doesn’t blame me. Not didn’t. Christ. He’s still alive.
“What you were looking at, was where NOWHERE thinks an entity called Vertigo is being contained. Bruce have anything on that?”
Dick: “No. They don’t.” Side-eye again. Wait for it. Damnit. “Okay. Tim and Bruce named more or less everything. Not me. Them. I never bothered learning their name. Bat-Boat. Bat-Mobile. Bat-Plane. Robin-Cycle. It wasn’t really a complicated naming convention. Then you started adding in things like two, three, four…”
If one didn’t know better they might think that this was the sort of thing that would drive a young Dick Grayson to drink. They’d be right. It did. A bar in Bludhaven even started numbering my martinis. That’s one of those things we don’t talk about. Not even with the shrink. The Bartender with Blue Hair once started making vroom vroom noises as she slid them to me. I had nightmares that night…
Que disappointment at being rebuked on the simple reassuring touch that hadn’t even been romantic… in five, four… blink. Blink. Maybe not. This is starting to feel like one of those eureka moments that I’d have with Batman. Okay. Maybe not exactly like those. There was a lot less hands on his thigh. Much less hand-holding. But… the same sort of ‘Oh, oh ohhhh damn everything just clicked.’ The problem is, I’m not sure what’s clicking in to place.
Then she asks the question and I’m moving on muscle memory. Tapping the edge of my sunglasses, to activate the car’s onboard computers. While in stealth mode it looks like a real car, but Dinah’s right in that it’s far from that. The fold out super-cycle in the trunk confirmed that. A couple seconds later there’s mechanized sound of the dashboard’s fold out screen that would ordinarily only be a backup camera for other vehicle. Us? We have the Nest’s backup systems putting us in to the Brother-Eye back-up system.
“Brother-Eye has some encrypted files on Vertigo, but they’re on the actual mainframe for the Bat-Computer. Unless Barb made headway in getting back in to the system, we don’t have any way to see the files.” Tilting my head back to her, I’m having my own little moment of recognition. Daamn. “During the League of Assassins being in Gotham. They attacked the Mansion in their search for Talia. While they were doing that, someone else used it as cover to attack the Cave. That’s what caused Alfred to lose control of the Plane that crashed and nearly killed you, me and Damien. In the long list of ‘shit gets weird.’ The attack on the Cave was either not very successful, if the intention was to steal something. Because all it succeeded in doing is putting the Brother-Eye Mainframe in to lockdown. We don’t have access to any of Bruce’s myriad of ‘Secret Files’ he had on Nowhere or various meta-humans that he kept. We still have all the computing power and software. None of the historical data.”
“Alternatively, it was very successful. Because Alfie thinks the whole thing was meant to lock us or someone else out.”
Dinah: Sure they don’t, and three… two… I know the way he’s looking at me, when denial won’t do the trick because he knows. And there it is. You’d think at least SuperGeniusTim would have better names for all the assorted accessories and doohickies, but maybe he was going direct and simple for the plebs. Whether this particular vehicle has a name, beyond Montana Safehouse SUV #2, gets a whole lot less important in very short order. Dick’s got a look on his face that I imagine is at least somewhat similar to the one on mine, when something clicks things that you hadn’t thought about, or at least hadn’t thought about from a very specific vantage, into place.
Not only are those ‘why didn’t I think of that?’ moments, but they’re even more frustrating because you did. Just maybe not back when you should have, or when you were in a place to pursue the trigger a little more directly. He’s moving, enough to get The SUV to reveal some of its hidden goodies, and I’m leaning in again to look at it. Unnecessary, because it’s more than clear even fully upright in my seat, but there’s this intensity to feeling like you’re right on the edge of something. Wave. Rollercoaster. Discovery.
“And here I just thought he was sick of Damien’s shit and we were acceptable collateral damage…”
I am actually listening to Dick, though, the commentary is more of a soft aside to myself than any remark meant to seriously derail what he’s telling me. Like the fact that Barbara’s back in Gotham, something I didn’t think would happen anytime soon, let alone in the Batcave. Explains why she was in my ear relaying messages. I would be wanting to talk about that if this moment were a little different but maybe I’m a little caught up in ‘me’ and ‘us’ for the moment.
“So are we still working under the assumption that it was Bruce? Why hoard all that information on literally everything and suddenly decide people who might have access shouldn’t? Trevor said that he had the basically the exact same conversation that I had with him, with Batman. Now, that could have been just the NOWHERE portions, but it seems like it would have been hard to compartmentalize what I did in Rapid City, without bringing up Vertigo. It’s not him he’s keeping it from, I’m sure he’s got it up in that steel trap head, and if nothing else in the Cave Crew has changed to suddenly warrant lockdown, then that takes us back to the someone else. Deathstroke knew I’d be able to get stuff from people he couldn’t, I assume that’s the real reason for him telling me what he did. Which I did, because I couldn’t help myself, and… I’m hoping he didn’t have nearly as much fun as we did in Rapid City. ”
But it’s probably not Slade he was hiding anything from either. So that goes bigger picture to what we’ve been toying at the edges of.
“So that brings us to the enemy we don’t know, that’s well connected enough to get its hooks in a project like Team 7. Steve said that Vertigo is an entity that inhabits people. As in more than one at a time. It was responsible for world war one. And two. It was contained until the Parallax event, and then Team 7 was sent in. Who we already know were facilitated by this group at one point. The good sheriff moved Vertigo, which he said NOWHERE doesn’t know….”
So either they’re not friends anymore completely, or its someone else, or…
“At this point I’m just going to keep outloud thinking like …ugh… Spoiler, because clearly I’m not putting all these thoughts together in the right order just in my head.”
Dick: Somewhere between ‘So are we still working’ and ‘outloud thinking like Spoiler’, I’ve all but pulled the vehicle off to the side of the road. Because I’ve afixed Dinah with a look that screams ‘What the hell?’ This is actually a first for me. I’ve never had her go on such a tangent of outward thought in the entire time of knowing her. Hell, half of my problem with Dinah is getting her to talk in the first place.
“First. I’m going to remember that you compared yourself to Spoiler. For literally ever. You had me turn on the computer. So it’s also recorded and backed up to like nine hundred systems.” Playful banter? Not going away. Not when she’s managed to start my wheels turning. “I’ve been so focused on you and everything else that I’ve put everything in Gotham on the back burner… holy fish sticks, Dinah.”
Without a hint of reservation I lean over and just outright kiss her. She’s fast. I’m faster. I’ll live with whatever consequences come of it. “Twenty-ish years ago Bruce puts on the Cowl and goes out as Batman. Gotham had been off-limits, because it’s Heroes like your Gran and Alan Scott retired there after the last World War. They brokered a deal, that kept powered metas out of the City, in exchange for making it a haven. Since Bruce wasn’t a Meta, but was clearly doing meta-like things… it put Nowhere at a bit of an impasse.”
“Once Bruce’s crusade began, anything that stood in it’s way had to be dealt with. He starts building contacts in D.E.O. and Nowhere… leading to your Gran. A few years later, you show up on his doorstep. He had a few new sons, but no daughter… plus a debt to your Gran. Like with me. Like with Tim. Even with Damien. You had a mystery around you and Bruce couldn’t not pull at the threads. He went looking, as he always did… and I’ll bet you a new shiny diamond tipped dart… he found out about Team7, had that conversation with the Sheriff and helped him move your Pandora’s Box.”
“I’ll bet you another dart, that he connected Pandora’s Box to you and one day you’d personally need to know. Hence having the info prepped, but set aside for you. He didn’t drop it… he intentionally left it for you to do what you do. Knowing it’s lead you there. Just like he knew I’d never let his death settle. Knew that Tim would never believe he actually died the way he did. I’d even bet, he factored in that Damien would lose his utter shit after losing his Father, if he also might lose his Mother. But he needed a Lazarus pit, to bring himself back. Because to fool the real bad guys, he needed to actually die.”
“All of which ties right back in you, Dinah. If this Vertigo is what you’re saying, he wouldn’t want that Court of Owls that he’d been researching to have it.” The next kiss is for the joined hands, it serves as a chance to swallow and wet my lips before I bring up one more thing. “The only problem I’m having here. Is that if all of this is even in the ball park of correct. The attack on the Cave doesn’t make a lot of sense. He’d have wanted us to have access to those files. I mean.. if I’m sharing Bruce’s head-space here… then there’s only two reasons I can think of as to why I’d sabotage the cave.”
“One, he knew you’d follow this to it’s ultimate end game. Which would trigger backlash once Nowhere realized that Pandora’s Box was gone. Meaning the info in the files probably contains the location of your Pandora’s Box, so he needed to render it inaccessible to keep the ‘Bad Guys’ from getting it. Or the second option… is that Bruce simply doesn’t want us to know the location. Which in itself means either one of us can’t be trusted.”
“Oh. Oh, wait. Shit, shit, double shit. There’s a third option. Damnit, I hate it when I think like Bruce. If this were me, Dinah. And I wanted to re-unite my daughter with her brother. Wanted to send her on this whole chase to rediscover lost memories. I wouldn’t drop it suddenly. I’d make sure there was a happy ending, so I’d damn sure keep Pandora’s Box somewhere I knew was the safest place on earth. Like.. the so super-secret vault that even Superman can’t see in to it and none of my partners, including Alfred, can even get in to.”
“…and I just asked Barbara to come home and hack it open, because Tim’s left the reservation.”
Dinah: “If you ever tell her that Act Like Spoiler was a momentarily legitimate plan, and that I did it, I will find the most creative way to castrate you that I can imagine, whether that’s figurative or literal. And I’ll do it twice.”
When did he pull over? I realize I’d begun staring at nothing, while ostensibly looking at the display on the console, and talking out loud. Or rather spitting out a stream of conscious thought so that if I missed something else, Christ Almighty, maybe he would pick up on it. We’d said before how many fucking times, joked about it, been half serious about it, but what if it was all the same thing? One neat little package, wrapped up with the same bow.
I don’t even get to rib him about the fish sticks comment, because first he’s kissing me. Which, as I’d already learned in the cramped train compartment is a pretty enjoyable experience. Then, before I get to respond to that in any manner at all he’s A. Stopped. And B. Moved on with his own ramble of verbal detective diarrhea. Blue eyes just get bigger. And bigger. Parts of this I think we’d guessed at, because it would only make sense. Bruce’s death. Talia al’Ghul just happening to be available and prepared with the Lazarus Pit. Then her Father being even more displeased with her than one would have thought.
“…you’re really free and loose with those darts…”
Still really can’t help the stray commentary. Even when he’s in the middle of all of this and…
“Jesus Fucking Christ. It’s all a neat, convenient package because somehow Bruce managed to make it that way.”
I don’t even understand how, and by all accounts, most especially my own, I’m pretty smart and clever. But it just makes sense, convoluted and ridiculous as it all is step by step it works. If I was rubbing the bridge of my nose before Dick kissed me, and connected all the dots, now I’ve got my fingers pressed to my temples like it’s all that’s keeping my head from exploding.
“I didn’t ask where Trevor moved it, because I didn’t want to know. Didn’t want that to be a secret I had to keep, but then I realized after you talked about the prison cell that it’s not a what, but a who…”
And that who is my brother. Was my brother. Who I didn’t really kill, just helped contain with Vertigo, and maybe NOWHERE thinks that’s not the case. Either because Steve Trevor got to ‘write’ that particular history, or maybe because the part of NOWHERE that’s actually trying to do good for this world doesn’t want just anyone to know the truth.
“…so maybe you better call her and tell her to stop…? Christ. I’d ask why on Earth he’d want us back together, but apparently once again I was right when I told Tim that despite his emotional constipation, Bruce clearly knew we were all better that way.”
Dick: “It’s also. Fucking twisted. Jesus, fucking, Christ, on a stick. Twisted.”
“This is exactly the kind of crap that man does. It’s why I left in the first place. Half the time it’s a test, to see if he can trust you. The other half of the time you’re left in the dark, twisting in the wind, because he doesn’t trust you.” This rambling little bit of rant is brought to you by hard feelings. They’re apparently sponsoring this episode of Dick Grayson wants to punch his adoptive Father in the mouth. And ends only when I realize that I’m ranting about three cubic inches from Dinah’s lips.
Oh. Um. “… kinda free and loose with castration threats too, good to see you’ve got my best features on your mind …”
Right. So I’m back to my own seat, not even realizing that I’ve just cleared my throat for like the third time in as many seconds. “Because we’re better together, D. All of us. Tim was right about that too. Look at it topically. None of us are the total package that Bruce is, but as a team. Working together. We’re more than the sum of our parts.”
“Hold on,” my free hand is touching buttons, gliding across the console in order to call Barbara’s commlink which ends in a warble. She’ll see me selectively going commlink to commlink then. Alfred is next, then Tim. Even though I know Damien’s out of the City, I go with him. Before finally settling on Stephanie. “The wishful thinker in me is hoping we’re so far out in the sticks that we can’t get cell service. Because otherwise that’s not ominous at all. Right?”
In what is the first time I’ve released her hand since she initiated that contact, I pull my hand away so that I can set the Wing-Mobile in to the not-stealth mode S.U.V. settings. Outwardly plating starts to coat the exterior. The engine sinks inward and the vehicle drops lower to the road. On the interior Dinah gets a whole lot more technology in her vision as it converts in to what she’s seen a hundred times inside the batmobile proper. Unfortunately we’re not driving the sports car version of this vehicle. We’re in the all-terrain one. Dinah’s already seen the backup bike in the trunk and now she’s seeing the wheels swiveling up in to jet turbines.
“I did tell you it can’t be the Wing-Mobile. Because it literally doesn’t have wings, Dinah. Don’t. I see your dimples. You’re about to try to say it’s an ‘Ironic Name,’ I swear… Bad-Dad will lose his shit.” As the engine is literally warming up, I stop in mid-teasing rant to turn just enough that this time around it’s a little more than side-eyeing her. “Hey, D. I just… I know it’s not the right time to say this but… we should actually take a night off and …
“Holy. Shit. That night. When I was spying on you and Slade. He said he didn’t know who contacted him about coming to Gotham to clean the whole Lazarus pit up.” No, that isn’t at all what I’d been about to say, but as more chips fall in to place I’m almost reeling over the complexity of it all. “Bruce could have hired anyone to take out that Pit once Joker got involved, but he brought in the one person who had history with you. The one person who would have reason to think you could help him take this journey, connect all these dots…”
“I think if Bruce isn’t really dead. I’m going to kill him..”
Dinah: He’s definitely right about that and, I think, everything else as well that’s come upon us in this thunderstruck moment. I might call it awe instead, but I can’t help wonder if Dick’s at least feeling a little bit of the dismay that’s threatening to creep in like it is for me. He was, after all, the first child. The test subject. I’m sure not judging him as he goes on his tirade because Lord knows he’s entitled. For all the things Bruce was for me, therapy inducing wasn’t one of them, but I also never lived with him and had a foundation outside of being a Bat before he came into my particular picture, along with the rest of them. As he goes, there’s this tension because I want to return the favor from the train and kiss him. Calling it a favor might be a little too saintly, because it would most definitely be as much for me, I don’t actually want to interrupt because maybe he needs to get that out, as much as anything else. It’s like magnets, pulling to connect, and squirming to get there.
Then Dick’s sitting back against the driver’s seat again, and I don’t have to fight that temptation quite so hard anymore. It’s also easy to let my eyes obviously drop to his lap, and let out a single snort of laughter.
“Mmn. Don’t know if I’d say best, but definitely memorable.”
But then, we didn’t exactly do much more than start, did we? Definitely a first for me, and maybe that’s the cause of some of that tension and frustration, but I think it has a lot more to do with the general situation. All of it. Being on the run, or maybe it’s the fact that we’ve been holding hands for probably longer than I’ve ever held anyone’s, and it’s a shockingly intimate gesture for what little sexual energy should be there. That’s broken as well, as he goes on with fiddling with the vehicle’s functionality, trying all the com links.
“The pragmatist in me is too strong to suggest that maybe Alfred’s busy with something else, and everyone else all at the same time. Realist would say we are in Middle America Nothingville, but given that you guys probably have a handful of satellites to prevent just this kind of thing…Maybe Barb accidentally crashed the system. Sounds like something I would do…”
Any one of them could be busy, but all of them, all at the same time? Even Spoiler? The fidgety, itching for a fight tension I’ve been feeling is zinging between different energies, and now it’s swung squarely back from interpersonal, to a need to get moving towards action. All of it is adding to something wrong. The comms. The vault. The Court and the timing. Maybe because the cynic in me could easily spin all of it two ways, this big picture. Bringing us together, or neatly having us out of the picture.
“Neither do you, Bird Boy.”
Fine, doesn’t want the ironic comment that I was definitely thinking, but now I’m leaned away from him, to watch the transformation of the car through the passenger window as much as I can. Good Lord, it’s like they can’t help themselves. This is exactly why I don’t let Tim touch my bike. I end up looking back over my shoulder at him, an almost wistful twist of my mouth.
“Yeah, we could probably use one at this point…”
No rest for the wicked, or the weary. I think I know what he’s trying to get at, not the general damn, we work way too hard and are putting up with way too much bullshit and deserve a night off, but we should set aside time where we’re not distracted by… everything. Thoughts of any of that, and almost my immediate need to try and play it off, get obliterated by what he’s just twitched into place. And one blue eye squints down to almost closed as I grimace. Jesus Fucking Christ on a Stick indeed.
“The one person who had an assortment of brain chips, that were incredibly solid breadcrumbs that would have had to have been overlooked in the very, very thorough surgical procedure that was erasing that chunk of my past, by someone who went to a lot of trouble to remove all other evidence…”
My Father never mentioned a brother, nor did my Grandfather. There were no pictures. No stray memorabilia. Nothing. Despite my general state of emotionally walled off and unavailable, I’m actually pretty sentimental. I love old romance movies, and the pictures and keepsakes were the only thing I kept from my childhood home before I sold it. He probably knows even more surely than me that Bruce didn’t overlook things. It was a pretty big shock that there was any sort of shadowed enemy in Gotham, mostly because he always seemed to know everything.
“…fuck, I don’t know if I’m impressed, horrified, or with you on the form a line, I’m gonna kill him. When I met Superman the first time, he was shocked he didn’t know who I was, even posing as someone with much less power than I’ve actually got. NOWHERE databases the shit out of everything like someone else I know. I thought it was my Grandmother’s doing at first, but not anymore, so it had to be Bruce. I don’t think they’d just let her erase that from their intell. Waller was apparently under the impression that I could crack the world with a little help, and Trevor said that my brother was, more or less, that…help…”
Ah, fuck. The Earthquake. I steer my thoughts sharply away, though a bit of a cringe still manages to escape my control.
“Fucking Machiavellian bullshit. Dick, I don’t think twisted is enough for it.”
Because Bruce went to an awful lot of trouble to protect me, or keep this from me, to ultimately still have it available and brought out for answers. But with the ‘answer’ being apparent Armageddon in his basement, the timing of it makes this feel a whole lot less of a favor for me, and more like a tool that was in that giant Battoolbox to be used when and if he needed it. I hate being used. Probably even more so when I don’t see the point. Why lead us here? Why choose this?
Dick: The two of us shift gears almost faster than the vehicle we’re traveling in. A once sleek black S.U.V. fit for any high roller’s cross country trip, it now rockets across the farmland sky on four rockets that were once the tires. More hover-craft than rocket, the lack of wings also means a lack of altitude, but that’s a good thing when you want to stay off the radar of a government that’s hunting for you. At the same time it means we’re no longer concerned about roads, allowing us to take the shortest route possible. Nearly a straight line.
As we travel I’ve made an effort to contact anyone who has an active commlink to our systems. None of them have answered. There have been no red alerts sent out though, which leaves the possibility that nothing is actually wrong. That the two of us are worried about something terrible that isn’t actually happening. There’s enough to lead us down that path, but I’m still holding on to the hope that everything in our world didn’t just go terrible wrong. I mean, frankly, it doesn’t have to be the opening of this Pandora’s Box. The Cave and our allies have seen their fair share of attacks recently. Not to mention Tim and Stephanie were off the grid before any of this. And there’s also a very real possibility that our antics have sped up the timeline with Nowhere. We could be facing a completely different threat than the one we’re racing home to confront.
I just don’t have that sickly feeling about this possibly being a Nowhere move against us. As much as I know about them and their resources, I have a hard time believing they could completely cut us off from someone like Tim or Barb. Add in to that, that I fully believe if they were moving against us that I wouldn’t have an open line available to the Tower in Coast City or Wonder Woman where ever she is. Nor would Dinah be able to just pick up a phone to contact Roy or Superboy. This all just feels targeted and close.
It’s only the people who know about the Cave or are connected to people who know about the Cave. That alone has me pressing down upon the accelerator to such a point that we’ve been getting warned about exceeding structural limitations for about the last half hour or so.
Entering through the underground grotto is the fastest way in to the cave. The problem at hand is that we don’t exactly know what we’re rushing in too. Nothing is visually amiss as we clear the shadows of the long cave entrance. At the mouth of the grotto there is a disguised entry, that functioned just like it’s supposed too. Parting open, then securing behind us as we passed through. Once the S.U.V. opens to allow us exit, next to the far more iconic and actual Batmobile, everything is a bit of a mess but it’s been that way since the attack a couple weeks prior. Alfred has clearly been working on putting things back in order, but there’s only so much a guy can do with a giant penny, massive dinosaur and over-sized Joker-card. These things will require a bit of assistance of the heavy machinery sort to put in place and he’s been left largely alone without anyone to badger in to helping.
It doesn’t take long to discover that things aren’t exactly as they seem though. Just up the cat-walk my eyes go to the figure slumped over the keyboard at the massive computer. Clearly unconscious, the form of Alfred Pennyworth is poised to push the ’emergency’ call button that would have sent out an alert to anyone that had the same commlinks I made an effort to call on our trip in. I’m about three steps in to rushing to the ageless caretaker when my eyes fixate on the computer itself in front of Alfred.
A grizzly sight if I’ve ever seen one and it leaves every drop of blood in my face draining out. I’ve never seen the room in the image, but I’d know the red head anywhere. She stands in front of a man that I recognize only from the files I’d gone through with Dinah. Barbara and Kurt Lance are having some sort of stand-off. I’m not sure it really classifies as a stand-off right now though, as it’s pretty clear that Barbara’s under some sort of great strain. Her whole body is trembling with effort.
Though I want to check on Alfred, I know immediately that I’ve got to check on the readings for that monitor. “Shit. Barb broke through the lockdown. The entire vault system is off line. Everything about this is above my pay grade in programming, she turned off the security systems… before she went in. Maybe she thought it was boobytrapped…”
“Either way. She’s all that stands between your brother or whatever he is and freedom.” Jerking my hands away from the keyboard, one goes to Alfred for a pulse and the other points Dinah to previously hidden stairwell beneath the lined rack of Batman and Robin costumes. “I don’t know what the hell she’s doing, but it’s bought us a little time.”
Dinah: We’re not alone, there’s other people to reach out to. I suppose that’s what Tim had been angling at with his recruitment drive. If I really wanted to rib him, I’d blame him for all of this since it started with me running interference for him in Metropolis. That wouldn’t be exactly fair, though, because that was actually, it looks like, coincidence. All of the rest of this had already been set into motion. Plus, I’d like to know he’s okay. When it comes to my non-super contacts outside the cave though, I wouldn’t call in Roy for this. Not with his daughter, and my advice to him to try and lay low after Oliver had outed him to the authorities along with the rest of us.
For someone that’s a bit of an adrenaline junkie, who drives her own motorcycle, and any car, like she has absolutely zero regard for her own safety or mortality, it becomes pretty clear that I don’t enjoy this particular ride. I’ll try to pass it off as nerves about what’s waiting, or whether we’re going to get there in time or not, but I’ve never liked being out of control. I didn’t like it when Conner flew me, I could really do without going this fast, hurtling across farms and white knuckling it when there’s a barn within a hundred feet.
And the warnings really didn’t help. Because after all of this? Fireball of a crashed, unidentified flying object doesn’t sound like the way I want to go.
At first, when we arrive, I notice the shambles but it doesn’t look recent enough to be ongoing. Who knows how long it’s been a wreck down here, I haven’t actually been back to the Batcave proper in years, I’d been spending my time in Tim’s hidey hole. I think Dick and I both have the same idea, which frankly says a lot about Alfred’s place in all of this, and I make it a few steps further than him before I skid to a halt because he has, and I must be missing something. Then I get my first look at my brother. Or what used to be my brother. Maybe I should have inquired a little more heavily and directly about this Vertigo, but once it was made clear to me what it was, I was out. It seemed like the kind of thing I didn’t want to/need to know about, and that knowledge could be a liability.
“Bruce made the thing, it’s a pretty sound bit of logic.”
If she went in, though, what exactly happened to Alfred? Kurt’s down there, I suppose he got out when the system went down. She had no way of knowing there was a cell with an actual living, breathing person in it I’d also assume. All I need is that pointing finger though to send me into motion again, questions or not. They can be answered later. What exactly is Barbara going to do against this thing? She’s a badass in most circumstances, but otherwise what exactly is she going to do? Bolting for the stairs, I don’t so much take them as use them as landing pads for leaping down the stairwell, I’ve got no concept of how big this vault is, but hopefully it won’t be too difficult to find my way. Running on my toes, fast as I dare without sounding like an incoming herd of horses.
Soon as I find them, soon as I’ve got eyes on Kurt, I’ll be screaming. No time to warn Barb to cover her ears, so she’s just going to have to forgive me. This Vertigo took almost all of Team7 back then, all at once, and I can’t allow time for it to make another go at rounding up a gang.
Dick: The Cave itself is cavernous, so it’s pretty natural to assume the Vault itself will be too. Dinah’s moving quickly, but nothing really keeps her from seeing that the staircase opens in to what off-sets all the darkness of the Cave, with white-walls that belong more in a hospital. The Vault is a single floor, that opens from the stairs in to a singular hallway with only one door. What Dinah doesn’t see or can’t possibly know is that the hallway she’s dashing through is crafted with kryptonian technology in mind. The walls aren’t white, they’re krystaline and reflect back the light that hits them. In this case the light is white, because that’s the simple human lights themselves. If she had time to stop and think, she might ask herself ‘What’s the purpose?’
Making the ‘Vault’ even more odd, is that if the door hadn’t been open at the end of the Hallway, she wouldn’t have even known the opening was there either. The door itself is the same krystaline structure and just as smooth as the walls themselves. Meaning that if you didn’t know what you were looking for or some way to peer past that krystal construct, you’d have no way to find the door itself.
Perhaps all of that is for another time? Because Dinah is fleet of foot and rushes headlong in to danger, doesn’t she? Other than the Video and some decade old files, she hasn’t seen the man she rushes toward in person for a very long time. He’s taller than she by a handful of inches and he’s got a rich almond color to his hair. Perhaps a sign of his entrapment, but it’s nearly as long as Dinah’s right now. Above and beyond that is the color of his skin a faint purple hue runs along exactly half of his flesh, with one eye nearly matching the color of Batgirl’s cape if she were wearing it. There’s no ominous greeting, no villainous monologue. In fact there’s simply no acknowledgement of Dinah at all.
Kurt Lance seems entirely focused upon Barbara Gordon. The two are locked in some sort of stair down when Dinah rushes in. Giving Dinah about a heartbeat to take in the room itself; four white walls. A singular bed in the middle of the room. Off to one side is the singular piece of equipment in the whole room, that looks like an archaic projector you’d use to play old home movies with. Nothing else. No medical equipment to keep him sedated. Nothing that would suggest he’d been locked up or subdued. A nearly empty room.
That’s about when the screaming starts. Because unbeknownst to Dinah and I, that’s the moment that Barbara’s Martian mind was cracked like an egg and started to spill out her nose, ears and tear ducts.
Dinah: I expected state of the art, maybe not unlike what Dick had talked about from South Dakota. Everything is too shiny, too polished, and it doesn’t look at first glance like any kind of building material I’ve ever seen. I’m not exactly spending a whole lot of time examining it, though, what with being in a little bit of a hurry. Maybe I thought there’d be more to it than this, with the scale of the Cave itself, and the equipment that’s above…not ground since the whole thing is a cave, but not in this sub, sub basement. I didn’t know it was here at all, Dick clearly did since he’d set Barbara to hacking into the thing again. Which she succeeded in doing, clearly.
I spend about as much time in taking in the sight of Kurt Lance as I had the walls and structure that make up the place. I wasn’t waiting for a greeting, and I’m certainly not rushing in headlong for a hug, or some tearful reunion. There’s enough important facts that I know. What this entity had done before. The lengths gone to in order to hide him and keep him contained, and the fact that the door is open. Maybe the fact that he doesn’t look entirely human, and is fixated on Barbara, makes this even easier for me. I’d already sucked in a breath before the screaming started. It might have jarred me a little if I wasn’t already set in my plan of attack.
Oh what the actual fuck! I’ll thank someone or something above for the years, and years, of fighting reflexes that keeps me moving even as …what is that?.. starts to come out of every orifice and hole on Barbara’s head. I have to get her out of here, which means moving, and trying to get close enough to grab her and drag her to the doorway while I focus my concussive sonics on Kurt.
Dick: What is that? That is Martian brain oozing out of apparently human orifices. Good thing she worries about that later, because Barbara’s screaming isn’t nearly as impressive as Canary’s. One of them is more like shrieking in pain, while the other is directing genuine concussive force upon a target.
There’s some impressive things happening right then. The first is how utterly unaffected anything in the white room is by the sheer power coming out of her lungs and across meta-human vocal chords. Canary has upturned cars and brought the Superman to his knees before, but the bed in the middle of the room doesn’t even flinch. One might wonder how comfortable a bed it could be taking such force without seemingly a care in the world, but that might explain why Kurt’s so grumpy. His back has to be killing him with that kind of comfort in sleeping.
Kurt on the other hand is the one thing in the room that -is- impacted by Dinah’s assault. Being hit exactly as Dinah might have wanted it to do with just about everyone else she’s ever attacked. It picks her ‘Brother’ up and hurls him across the white room, in to the opposite krystaline wall. Minus the satisfaction of a crunch. Actually. Minus any sound that would suggest the kinetic force being met with an unmovable wall.
Ah, but remember what Steve Trevor told her about her Brother? Tuning Fork. The power of her voice does as it should in that the concussive force tosses him like a rag-doll, but his whole body seems to soak it in. He should be down for a long time, with a hit like that, but he’s already pushing back to his feet. What’s worse is that as he does Barbara’s brain matter isn’t the only thing about her that starts melting.
That’s just about the exact moment that our ‘Hero’ Nightwing skids to a halt just behind Dinah, moving to take the bulk of Barbara’s weight off the Canary’s burder. “Sorry to interrupt the ‘Family Re-Union’ but when Barb took down the Vault’s main lock-down, she apparently took out the entire Brother-Eye mainframe to do it. Com-links and Tim’s drones are out too.”
“Oh, hell. He’s pulling her apart at the seams.”
“No. I’m pushing the reset button on this one.” Not that Dinah would recognize the voice, but it certainly isn’t her Brother’s. “She may prove useful.”
He’s only just getting himself upright when he began speaking. Kurt Lance is a bit taller than Dinah, but he’s not an imposing figure by any means. Especially not when draped in little more than a white hospital gown. The stark contrast of white cloth to purple skin really the only ominous thing about her brother right now.
“Dinah Lance. We meet again. My how you’ve grown.” As ‘Kurt’ speaks Barbara begins to go in to what can only be described as convulsions. Her skin on the left side of her body is beginning to take a hue similar to Kurt’s. Though the other side of her body is shifting to a sickly pale green. “This husk is feeling… moved… by how good you look. I can’t decide if it’s pride or want.”
“Did you bring me another?” A pair of mismatched eyes shifts to Dick Grayson and narrow. “He seems. Much. Less special than the other.”
“Whoah. I’m perfectly special enough… yeah, okay… your brother’s a mean girl too? It runs in the family?” The truth is Dick’s actually letting go of Barbara though and touching Dinah’s arm to tell her to do the same. The files say Vertigo possessed people and Barbara’s skin says she might be a victim. “D, did your lapdance include an instruction manual…?”
Dinah: It’s not any human blood that I’ve ever seen, and that’s the much more strange part of what I’ve just observed. The room itself being blissfully unaffected by my screaming? That actually makes sense in a prison that’s been playing host to a superpowered individual for an indeterminate amount of time. It must absorb it. I wasn’t intending to stick around in here if I could help it, but the only semi-satisfying result of the brunt of my meta-power goads me that little bit faster. When the rest of Barbara starts to melt, that’s about the time that I stop trying to forcibly remove her from the area.
That isn’t Barbara, and while I may typically be a hero, I’m about to pull a move not unlike pulling Dick from the base when Deathstroke started to attack it. This one’s a lot more rooted in self and world preservation though, and maybe a side of wanting to get away from this thing that was, once upon a time, my older brother. While ordinarily I am all about engaging in some witty repartee with a bad guy, especially one that’s giving me such strong creep vibes, the fact that we’re in serious trouble kind of curbs my fun a little bit.
“I’m going to let you go ahead and think on that for a second…”
I’m backing myself into Dick, and trying to back us both out of the room. I’d heard what he’d said about the system being down, Christ I hope there’s still a way to shut this door… I know next to nothing about things like this, technology isn’t my forte but Bruce Wayne liked to make contingencies with backups and backdoors and second backups. What was your plan for this, you overbearing asshole? It’d be thought with more love on any other day.
“No. Not it did not. Other than you get this shut again… and maybe get a blowtorch, and call Superman. Not Wonder Girl… and I’ll…”
Try to hold him here. He may not even be able to use that particular phone that’s apparently for the super secret club, but I don’t know. That’s something Dick gets to figure out while I do my level best to pin the man that was Kurt Lance in place, and hopefully disrupt him enough to not add me to the growing collection. That first scream hadn’t been terrible effective and I’m cursing, long and creatively, my lack of curiosity for exactly how we’d put him down and contained him the last time. I just have what Steve Trevor had said about when he woke up, and when he passed out, to gauge by. Knowing that that is not Barbara in there, actually frees me up to push a little harder this time. The walls absorbing the sound means I don’t worry about the waves bouncing and hurting Dick. Of course, it’s still loud.
DIck: “…I-uh I.. don’t think a blowtorch is going to work on these walls…”
That right there? Is your once and future Batman. Dick Grayson is not a stupid individual. Far, far from it in fact. However as near as he can deduce the creature in that room is melting Barbara Gordon. Whom Dinah is seemingly suggesting that they leave behind, while backing away from the door and the creature. The trouble is two-fold for Dick. On the one hand he knows the Canary, knows that she wouldn’t leave someone behind if she could help it. Add that to the fact that Barbara is literally slipping through his fingertips with no real ability to take hold on her to drag her along anyway.
You have to understand. Smart or Not. Dinah’s physically suggesting that Dick leave behind the woman he’d been engaged to only a year prior. The question is not whether or not to do what she’s intimating, but a measure of how long it takes him to actually get past the shock of it to acknowledge properly. A second longer, even, to actually act on it.
“Much less special.” Her brother’s eyes once more go to the growing puddle of Barbara Gordon on the ground between he and Dinah. Her shrieks have ended, but only because she no longer has a mouth. “Very curious indeed. What have you brought me, little Sister? It does not want to be erased but it also isn’t what it seemed to be.”
Dinah’s plan is sound and though Dick hesitated for a few heart beats, he’s moved out of the doorway. Albeit a little grudgingly. Once Dinah’s backed up enough she’ll see that he’s taken to curiously thumping and tapping the walls outside the cell. “Once, back when I was Robin, we took a trip to the Arctic. We met the O.G. Superman there. He took us to this.. snow fort thing.. the walls looked the same as this. It was some sort of sophisticated circuitry that was made of the same stuff as Superman’s home world. Everything activated with a touch.”
Oh yeah. Dick’s somewhat babbling but he does seem to be actually following directions. Assuming he’s right about how to control the door in the first place. It isn’t hard to see though, that he is splitting his focus to see what the hell is going on. He just did the math too and knows that he isn’t going to do a whole lot of good against that thing in there. No better than Barbara did, at least.
Kurt Lance on the other hand, has finally begin to move once more. If he fears Dinah’s attacks it sure doesn’t show on his face. His gate does hobble, if only a little, but that only gives him a movie monster like shamble as he rounds the cot-like bed in the middle of the room. A hand outstretched toward ‘Barbara’ seems to coerce her in to movement as well. Little pale green tendrils start to ooze out of Barbara’s remains in the direction of Dinah’s legs.
“Definitely want, though I don’t understand why. Your people are so frail. You would never live survive the…”
Dinah: “Not for the walls, that’s not Barbara.”
That is, or formerly was, NOWHERE’s shapeshifter. Maybe I don’t have a lot of concrete evidence to go on, but gut acknowledgement, coupled with thankfully my brain seeming to function at decent efficiency with the adrenaline going, tells me I’m probably right. Conner’d mentioned her before in an aside. And he’d also said that they don’t like eye lasers. Lacking those, I figure fire is the closest thing we’re going to get. Maybe a Batflare. It could serve the same purpose.
“Flare gun? Move.”
What you’ve got right now, is two of the most experienced and highly trained, you might even say overly so, vigilantes in the country and we’re left with desperately pawing at the walls, trying to close a door in the face of a shambling monster that is now making overtly sexual comments while wearing my brother’s face. It would probably be so much worse if I possessed the memories to connect him to. I’m backing my ass up as well, I don’t want shapeshifter anything getting on me.
There has to be a way to close it, or you’d think he would have gotten out before Not Barbara could have gotten down here, and gotten in. She also had to be able to find it, unless she knew something we didn’t, but that’s another level of subterfuge that I just can’t add into the mix right now.
“Mmmn, maybe you should have a seat, a nice little think and ask him.”
Clear of the door, I can to a degree join in, copying Dick’s search for any kind of point that will do what we need right now. Leaving the shapeshifter in there with him isn’t ideal, but neither is contending with both of them and so I launch another attack from my vantage just outside the doorway. Harder this time, more forceful, this isn’t a shout to knock someone down and away, but a longer held note.
Dick: As the search for the door controls continues, with little success, Dinah’s multitasking. It’s a very good thing that she’s very good at what she does. Because while she isn’t going having any luck with the door she’s blasting the snot out of the puddle of goop that’s in front of her. It does a very good job of pushing that back.
In fact Dinah is succeeding in pushing everything back. Her brother is forced to grasp the side of that cot to hold himself from once more being pushed all the way back to the other wall once more. Though once again, Dinah’s too good at what she does not to notice that it’s having a decidely lesser impact than before. Perhaps that could be explained by the simple act of widening her attack. Thereby lessening the impact over all? In either case that purple hue to Kurt’s skin is starting to darken considerably and overtake all of his flesh, not just the partial coverage it had been when she first saw him.
“An apt suggestion. Let’s ask him.”
That is when it happens. Those mismatched eyes focus upon Dinah herself. Not to attack in any way she’s ever been trained to fight. It’s not control he seeks. Nor violence that might come from an assault upon the mind. As she attacks him, he responds by opening a link to the pawn that he’s infesting. Dinah won’t be getting her own memories back. She’ll be getting a glimpse in to Kurt Lance’s. The only way she’s going to stop it, is for her to focus on denying that link… or making him have to focus elsewhere. Otherwise she’s going to have to witness it all. Every moment of Kurt Lance’s life that she doesn’t remember on her own. The Vertigo pushes that link, to find why the Brother seeks to touch the Sister quite so much.
To make matters even worse? Does anyone notice the puddle of goop is starting to not be quite so pushed away with the concussive element of her scream?
“…bloody ‘ell, can’t even take a nap…” Apparently it isn’t just Kurt Lance that shambles, because Alfred Pennyworth is limping down that long hallway at the pair of Dinah and Dick, with what looks to be a bottle of the Wayne Manor’s best whisky. No E. “…fookin kids…and their loud parties…”
English though he may be. The thing in his hand is decidedly Russian in origin. Molatov, specifically. Which he’s lighting as he approaches and only misses Dinah’s golden head by a hair’s width. “… fire in the bloody hole …”
Dinah: We’re not even going to discuss the fact that I’m basically batting at the air and walls surrounding the doorway like some catnip drunk kitten, while I split my focus. Screaming? Takes almost zero effort, but it does require me to point my mouth in the proper direction. Ordinarily, I can count on walls and surfaces to ricochet the force waves to a degree, but these clearly absorb everything that hits them. Then there’s racking my brain for every little nuance and remark that Steve Trevor had made about Kurt and Vertigo. Fucking idiot. Me. Not him. I should have asked more questions, but that seemed like a clear hands off, Dinah! sort of situation. How the fuck was I supposed to know that Bruce Wayne actually had a world ending Pandora’s Box in his goddamn basement?
He said he was like a tuning fork. What does that even mean? I do know what a tuning fork is, and what it does, I had a lot of music lessons growing up, to go with the literal horde of other instruction and teachers. Doesn’t matter how hard, or soft, or where you hit one, as long as you’re holding it by the right end it’s going to make that same, singular pure sound. The force aside, and the effects it has on the world as a whole, he’s really not personally doing anything but… absorbing it. It’s suddenly very much quieter as I stop, hands unconsciously going to my head at the intrusion as I back away another half step, and then another. I don’t want to know, and I certainly don’t want to see.
The immediate response is denial, trying to force my thoughts onto something else, to anywhere else that I can replay in vivid clarity. The train ride, and the intense moments in the compartment with Dick. The sensation of a fight. The taste of shitty rest stop coffee. The very welcome sound of Alfred Pennyworth’s voice distracts me, the relief that I feel, and it’s a very good thing that he’s actually a very good aim, because I don’t do much to get out of the way. Other than to throw myself out of the immediate path of the door when I actually understand what he’s said, and what he’s thrown. I land with a thud, arms over head and face to try and protect at least that from any backdraft of a fireball.
Maybe there won’t be one because of the room but I’m not going to bank on anything right now. I’m scrambling up to my feet again as quickly as I’d gone down, though.
“It’s absorbing anything I throw at him. Maybe absorb anything we throw… are BatExplosiveSedatives a thing?”
Dick: The explosion in the chamber is muted by the cell itself and it’s construction, but it wasn’t meant to absorb liquid. While the bottle pops when it explodes and the floor, walls, absorb that concussion, the liquid inside sprays everywhere. Oh and thanks to the wick at the end, it also burns. Liquid fire sprays everywhere. Which in turn has a couple effects.
It frees Dinah of the influence that was pounding upon her mind. The stream of memories stops almost immediately. One would wonder, how does he seemingly ignore the damage, if not the push, of her concussive blasts but simple fire harms him? It takes only to look in to the room to understand the answer, because it’s all about that fire hitting the goopy blob that was once Barbara Gordon. It would seem that by harming Barbara, while she is mentally linked to Kurt, it translates in to him feeling her pain too.
Alfred is as quick as he is sturdy, which is to say that he really isn’t either of those things right now. He’d no sooner tossed the cocktail through the door, than he too hit the deck. As it so happens, Dick Grayson turns from the wall, to brace himself between the two of them and that wave of firey explosion that Alfred unleashed. Stupid and Selfless to a Tee, but this time with good measure.
“Bat-Wankers, the lot of ’em. Next time I’m getting a good suit, Lucius is making mine out the same bloody materials.”
Ignoring his grumbling, Dick has already moved from protecting the two of them to assisting them on getting up. “We can’t just leave her in there. Barbara… whoever,… whatever that is? She’ll just become a pawn. We don’t even know if the cage will hold two of them.”
As soon as he’s got the two of them on their feet and moving towards that exit again, he turns back to the door itself. Big Damn Hero? No. He’s about a step in to going in after ‘Barbara’ when he sees another of the tendrils reaching. It just doesn’t seem to be going for him or them, like before. It’s going upwards, along the seal of the door. Right where Dinah had been reaching, tapping wildly, looking for some button to trigger the door. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s some inner voice telling him to take his change. But either way Dick does two things then. With one hand he grabs the tendril to pull as hard as he can. The other hand slaps, palm down upon the spot it seemed to be reaching for.
It’s a shockingly resounding success. Maybe the first one Dick’s had all day. Weak as she is from the fire, ‘Barbara’ weighs next to nothing and is pulled clear of the door like silly puddy. Dick read the moment mostly correct and his hand caresses the door trigger, just like ‘Barbara’ had been reaching for. It seals shut almost in time with the moment the goopy Barbara is pulled free.
“Dude. Kryptonian tech? When did we install a Kryptonian Sub-Basement?…. Spoiler… don’t touch the Dinosaur!”
Dinah: I’d been on my way to up and moving, but I don’t refuse the assist. We still have to get the damn door closed. We still have to keep this Apocalypse that was my brother, and apparently deep down wants me, from getting out. Once I’m up, and the assault has cut off, I’ve turned my back towards the door, hands braced on my knees as I lean my ass against whatever the hell these walls are made out of, and take a moment to just pant.
“You Batboys and your fireproof suits. Hff. Hff. It’s almost like this happens to you all the time.”
I’d bet the suit Tim made for me probably is, too, but I’m not wearing it right now. Good thing I don’t depend on gear for heroics, or I’d have gotten crisped. Even as I think the thought, though, I don’t doubt Dick would have still done the same thing even if he was wearing street clothes. Or nothing. This isn’t exertion, I can keep going, I’d be pretty worthless in a fight if thirty seconds of action took me out. Mental assaults are not something I’m used to feeling, or fighting, and to say that it was overwhelming might be understatement of the day. And it’s been a day. One that’s not even close to over.
“We don’t know that she’s not already!”
I know this Vertigo can possess multiple people. I didn’t know how, though I’d ruled out proximity or you’d think it would have already done so. My charity also doesn’t go nearly so far as Nightwing’s, I’m feeling a whole lot more better safe than sorry. He’s already going, though, and as I turn around to try to grab hold of Dick, I see what Dick’s seeing. He’s already there, and already moving and before I can make anymore bids for just leaving the other intruder she’s been pulled free, and the door’s shut. If that wasn’t enough of a feeling of relief, to go with the general lightheadedness I’m feeling, then there’s the all too familiar voices of ‘the kids.’ I sit my ass back down on the floor and let my head tip back against the wall again.
“But why is there a Dinosaur! You can’t have something like that and not expect people to TOUCH it…wait… what’s…is this a giant penny? What does it even GO in?”
Make that 2/2 of Robins that didn’t know this was here. Which leaves the man that always knows more than he lets on…
“Did you know this was here, Alfred?”
I might be sounding a hair accusatory. Or maybe that’s just me out of breath, or maybe it’s a tone of annoyance because I’m warily eyeballing the not entirely formed, quivering pile of Barbara.
“That is NOWHERE’S telepath. And shapeshifter. And cheerleader, apparently. Ring any bells, Red?”
Dick: Dick has gone from one thing to another with the customary grace you’d expect of a trapeze artist. Pulling ‘Barbara’ to freedom. Closing the door panel, if only because the goop was clearly trying to show us how. Putting himself between the fire and everyone else was just pure and simple instinct, the rest was calculated design. It’s as simple as that and he says so as soon as the door is sealed, “We can’t leave someone behind, Dinah. Not like that. If she’s still hostile we deal with it, but…”
“…but the fire did a number on her and she’s not going to be causing any trouble for the time being…”
“It doesn’t go in anything. Not since Batman and Robin dismantled the Joker’s amusement park in the Narrows. … seriously… don’t touch that. The Bat-Pogo stick is a little finik… don’t look at me. You got yourself on to that giant playing card, you find a way down.”
The elder statesmen of the Cave realizes, even as he’s speaking, that literally all eyes have turned to him. Nightwing’s. Canary’s. Even Timothy at the top of the stairs is leaning in to hear the answer to Dinah’s question. No one is joking, nor is anyone offering him an easy out that ordinarily might have been tossed out. Instead there is a very uncomfortable silence, as everyone simply waits. Pennyworth looks from Dinah, to Dick, then down the hall to where the voice of Timothy had come, before mopping a hand through his tussled hair.
“The lot o’ you givin an old man the third degree.” His shoulders go up, then down and with a sigh he finally answers. “Not like Master Wayne woulda found the time t’ build it ‘imself. That woulda took ‘im away from his mission. Drew up the bloody blue prints and left ’em on my inn table s’whot ‘e did. Ya think we hired a construction crew? It’s the bloody bat-cave ya ninnies.”
“Fairly sure Dinah was asking if you knew about the Vertigo creature,” jerking a thumb back over his shoulder at the now closed door. “How much of it did you know and why didn’t you tell us?”
“Mm. Master Wayne has had his fair share of house guests. Some that I knew, some that I didn’t.”
“Not that I’m trying to let Alfred off the hook, but just so you guys know that gelatinous creature down there is going to be able to reform herself soon. You should put her in to one of the the other cells down there.”
“There’s more than one cell?”
“Mhm. There’s six of them.” The look between Dick and Alfred has just turned in to something very very tense. “Seriously. Lock the Martian up now. Family Feud later. Spoiler can referee.”
Dinah: “And if she was playing host to Vertigo, which she could have been…”
There’s more to say, but I cut myself off, not because I’m trying to leave it dangling there for suspense, but because there’s really no point in arguing. How’s that for an indicator of where my mind’s at? Passing up a pointless argument with Dick, because it was pretty clear that GoopBarbara was trying to help shut the door and not attack us, in favor of redirecting myself. I don’t even roll my eyes or make an aggravated noise at the childish uselessness that sounds like Spoiler’s displaying upstairs. Oh, see. Maybe I wasn’t just annoyed by her because of the mind control.
“So, the answer is yes, you knew. All of it.”
Because a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed, if he hadn’t, and wasn’t trying to avoid lying to us. A ‘fair share of house guests,’ means they’ve come and gone. Plus, Alfred always knows everything. I didn’t need Dick to try and lay that out for me before, I already knew it. Batman might have been ‘Master Bruce’ but Alfred’s Master of the House and everything in it.
“And even when you knew we were picking and pulling at something that would lead us here, you still didn’t say anything.”
I know that the person I’m actually mad at right now is Bruce. Fucking Bruce. I’ve said Alfred’s loyal to a fault, because it’s the saying, but I think this might be the first time I’ve ever thought of it that way, and I find myself feeling actually quite… hurt. Usually there’d be a whole lot of piss and vinegar in that accusation but my tone is even, and a little a cold as I push myself up the wall, reach down to grab the best handful of our new guest that I can, and start dragging her towards… the flat wall. I already feel ridiculous, played, lied to, and I don’t really want to add anymore stupid fumbling on top of that.
“Then open one. Or point. And then do whatever computery magic it is that you do to get this shit back on lockdown.”
There’s a rather loud thud from up above us, a few moments before the purple clad Spoiler becomes the third person to do their own shambling.
“…what so I overestimated my boots’ shock absorbers a little… ummmmm…I’m good, I’d like to keep my head where it’s at thank you verrrrry muuu…ulp.”
Maybe I don’t have my murderous look reigned in quite so tightly as I’d thought. Regardless, the Martian’s getting put nicely into whatever particular box they open for me, because I don’t need Dick accusing me of being hostile towards the prisoners, even if they deserve it. And then I’m heading for the stairs up and out.
Dick: “How do we know she isn’t?”
Because Dick Grayson saw her reaching for the controls. He’d seen it the first time too, but like Dinah there had just been an assumption that they were going for an attack. Like Dinah, Dick chooses to just leave this alone for the moment. She’s technically right, of course. It just hadn’t seemed that way in the moment. He’d felt something, that detective’s intuition maybe, that just told him that Barbara was fighting it. Okay, maybe it isn’t Barbara, but the look on the screen when they’d first arrived told him that she was fighting the entity.
It doesn’t answer what she was doing in there, in the first place. Dick isn’t quite to that point in his working through the anger though. That’s still reserved for Alfred. Who is even now puffing up quite simply, Master Bruce felt that you, Dinah, had been hurt quite enough. He chased your demons round the world. When he finally found them… he realized they should be left where they were. Figuratively speaking. Literally speaking, they couldn’t very well be left with those insufferable prats. They mass produce everything they get their hands on. Imagine them with the ability to just make everyone love the President and ask no questions at all.”
As Alfred starts to rebuke the anger all around him, another door opens that was previously invisible to the naked eye. This one is just a few paces down the hall. Dinah’s getting a little help by that point from Dick who’s scooping his ex-goopfriend up in handfuls to assist in sliding her in to that empty white chamber. It won’t take much of a detective to see the anger radiating out of the former Boy Wonder.
“Master Bruce’s long-term goal was to find a means of extricating your Brother from his prison, in order to reunite the two of you… miss Stephanie would you kindly put those back where you found them. The Riddler’s puzzle box is not a rubix cube.”
“It looks like Kelsey, Barbara, whatever we’re calling her, did a great job with ‘fixing’ this Krypto-Vault. If I’m following her digital foot-prints right, I think that once she realized it was kryptonian she was able to work right through the logic programming to trick it in to thinking she was supposed to be allowed in there.”
Once Barbara is tucked away and secured, not only is Dinah heading up and out but so too is Dick. “Alright, Alfie. What I’m still not getting, is if you knew about this Vault and knew about the contents of it. Why didn’t you bring it up from the start?”
“Oh. Two reasons. One of which isn’t going to buy me any forgiveness. Master Bruce was quite convinced that once he was gone, the lot of you would need take this journey. Which, I might add, as maddening as it may seem, would appear to be correct.” The wisened old butler makes a last moment attempt of regaining his dignity before adding. “A fact that I became quite agreeable with. Once it became clear to me that none of you would take your heads out of your arses and just look at the mess we’re making of everything. Master Grayson, you tried to tell Miss Lance about her being programmed. Miss Lance, you tried to tell Master Drake that he needed to be himself and stop trying to be Bruce. While you Master Drake, took to pouting like Master Damien after a scolding.. and injected yourself with the Queen only knows whot. And might I add… that I did attempt to say that, that was not Miss Gordon? Because there is absolutely no way Miss Gordon steps in to this house, if you’re wearing that cowl. She feels the same way about it and you, as I did about Master Bruce and that damnable thing. She just had the temerity to put her foot down.”
“Something had to bring the lot of you t’gether and open your eyes. You’re all too bloody old to have your ears pinched and sat in a time out.”
Dinah: How on Earth Stephanie Brown manages to look supremely guilty when you can’t actually see 75% of her face is beyond me, but it’s a thing at the moment. She may also be the only one who’s both not mad at Penny-One, and listening to him without any sass, because the box is promptly put back. And then adjusted when it’s not close enough to the exact spot where she got it from. And then rotated a few degrees, all while keeping eyes on the Butler with a weird sort of awe. Me? Well. I’m less sass and more sharp and tart.
“Oh, yeah, very noble of him. Until he had a purpose to use that hurt for.”
I’m going to fucking kill him. Again. I’m not going to debate the logic, because I’m sure there was elements of all of what Alfred’s said. After all, he did know him the best of all of us. It isn’t those surface motives that I’m furious over, because I wouldn’t want NOWHERE, or anyone else, to get their hands on Vertigo. Either they don’t all know about him, or it hadn’t occured to them to use it as Alfred suggests or they would have known before now that it wasn’t in the box they left it. They probably do now. Plans, within plans, within backups to be trotted out when needed, would Kurt have just rotted away down there unknown forever if Bruce hadn’t run afoul of this Court of Owls?
“Lets make sure no one else can do that again, huh? It’s an understatement to say that thing can never get out.”
That thing, it’s easier to call it a ‘thing’ than my brother. I’m once again left with more questions that I both don’t want the answer to, and can’t help wondering regardless. The glimpses of a life that are still ringing between my ears. It’s already cost me enough, and the ramifications beyond that… I don’t care how supposedly secure Bruce thought his superprison was, someone’s already broken in, and the reason I hadn’t wanted to know where Vertigo was, was this is beyond me, it feels like too big of a problem to be buried in Gotham City. I don’t question whether or not Tim can. For one, I always assume he can do anything I can imagine with tech because one, I’m not that imaginative with it, and two. He’s good. I still don’t want to damage his ego so… again, maybe that wasn’t all the programming. Plus I’m not fucking mad at him.
I might be taking the stairs a little hard, but I’m still pretty jacked and ready to fight so… the conversation isn’t precisely settling me any. But to be honest I’m not in the mood to be settled. There’s elements of what Alfred’s saying that I can’t truly argue, especially after the rather eye-opening week I’ve had across the country. In true Dinah Lance fashion, however, I bypass all of those points that can be argued and go for the jugular of what I see is the problem.
“Road to Hell, Alfred. The manipulation’s gotta stop, maybe we do have our heads up our asses, but we can’t be a team if we’re all questioning each other’s motives all the damn time.”
Maybe I’m projecting. I think I’ve gotten the object lesson from The Nest and that sparring session a little too many times upside the head at this point, that anyone could be the problem. And we’re not even to dealing with the fact that we have a telepathic alien that belongs to NOWHERE in the basement, who knows what’s in the basement. We need to have a ‘family’ meeting, but Christ I am not in the head space to do that in a productive manner right this second.
“And before anyone accuses me of running off, and gets punched in the face, I have to go see if I can deliver the other half of a lap dance over the telephone with someone who will actually give me straight, pointed answers.”
Dick: “Weaponized emotions? The one class you showed up to on time, Miss Lance?”
It’s Dick’s turn to plant himself against the side of the white wall and just melt down in to a huddle. “That’s enough, Alfie. You made your point.”
“Have I? Because I think what you’re all missing here is the bloody point. Bruce needed… needs help and this was his way of asking for it. By providing each of you some aspect of finding yourselves and being better than him. Because y’ got t’ be t’ do what he couldn’t. His last gift was t’ make y’ all whole.”
“Right-o, on it chief. I’ll just sit here and play with the Kryptonian technology until I figure it all out.”
Dinah’s wrong about one thing. Spoiler isn’t the only one that isn’t angry. There’s a certain silver clad Drake that’s crackling his knuckles when she storms past that is just about the happiest boy in the world. She even got a very sincere salute. That’s one order he’s happy to obey unquestioningly. This is next level technology that has been here all this time? And Tim never even had a hunch about it? That speaks to so many things, the least of which is how good the tech is if it hid itself here of all places. Without Tim ever being the wiser.
“Do you need to borrow my Holographic imaging phone? Virtual Lap-Dances might just be the…“
Tim: It has been a whirlwind of a last couple weeks. Months, even. Starting with the Death of Bruce Wayne the city of Gotham had gone crazy. Culminating in the invasion of a clan of killers, known as the League of Assassins. We’ve been on a merry-go-round of insanity through it all. Discovering more new questions than uncovering answers. We still don’t know who killed Bruce, but now it is worse than that because some of us aren’t sure he’s dead. Or, rather, I’m not sure. Since I don’t know that the others believe me. Just like no one seems to buy in to Stephanie’s suspicions about her Father.
Not that I blame them in either case, to be honest. I mean the whole idea of Bruce still being alive is insanity on it’s own. If you can’t accept that, then why would you even even think of Cluemaster upping his game to real player status? Rhetorical. You wouldn’t. The evidence at hand for both of those ideals is murky, with the line of thinking on Bruce forcing you to consider that he also was behind the hacking of the Bat-Cave computers. That perhaps Bruce felt the only way to control the evil of this city was to become the the truest version of a Dark Knight. Thus making Stephanie’s dilema even more of a curious offering, because it would be a tale of two father’s changing their acts entirely.
These are the thoughts that plague a certain teenage genius in the middle of the night, while he toils away in the lowest levels of the Nest. Yet another puzzle really, if you consider that the Nest itself is build beneath the city of Gotham. In one of the many station dumps for Batman’s original network of railway cars that allowed him to traverse Gotham City so quickly. A supply depot that was by it’s very nature already deep beneath Gotham’s sewer and rail system, that boasts an impressive four levels. The upper most appears to be a run-down gymnasium, bearing the face of a certain Cat-themed Boxer of Black Canary’s past. The second is a true basement, which is mostly a security level people have to pass through in order to begin a search for the levels below. Then there’s the upper level of the nest beneath those, which boasts an impressive computer system on par with the Bat-Cave. It also has housing elements which once served as a certain Boy Wonder’s home away from home. Then there’s the training and equipment rooms.
Below that? Is the room where no one else ever bothers to go. Call it the Garage if you must because this is where that aforementioned boy wonder comes when he wants to work on various items. Tonight’s project is more a retooling than a rebuilding. With a new face being put on the bike of old, if the sparks flying in all directions is any indication. In spite of the welding mask he’s wearing and the sweat that trickles down his arms and chin. Not to mention the strange garble of nearly unintelligible music that blares from the speakers. Somehow there is still a glance in the direction of the stairs just as the silhouette of a visitor appears.
“Sorry, I disabled the elevator,” calling out above the din of the music. “Most people who come to the Nest are too lazy to take the stairs.”
DInah: “We both know that’s not true. The sorry part. Not the rest.”
Being heard over the music, no matter how loud and awful it might be, is about as much of a problem for me as descending the stairs had been in the first place. I’ve always been loud in basically every sense of the word, the trick for me had been in learning how not to be when I wanted. Volume, without the sonic projection that used to go along with it every time, was impossible when I was younger. I was okay with that back then, because I was angry and blunt force trauma, volume cranked to eleven suited my wants. I may have had skill starting very early, but age has brought finesse. Or at least the years and years of practice that goes along with it has.
Maybe the second part is partially untrue as well, but in general? It still fits. Either reading the disabled elevator, in the midst of the techno-marvel of the obsessive Tim Drake as what it really is: deterrent. Or maybe not having a good enough reason to bother. Often when I’m here, my attire is decidedly non-formal. At least for visiting the ‘lair’ of a typically masked vigilante. Hell, yoga pants and workout gear are non-formal anywhere you go, I just happen to be someone that gets away with wearing whatever I want. It’d be more concealing than what I’ve got on now, the latest iteration of the Canary suit. Everyone that comes here knows who I am at this point, so I don’t feel the need to hide it from anyone.
Which means I was probably ‘working’ before I came over here. Or en route, as it were. It’s not exactly hard to find places to blow off that kind of steam in Gotham City in the best of times, and I wouldn’t call now that. Maybe that’s why I felt the need, if I’m being honest with myself. Having things that I need to do elsewhere, with the timing of it? Frustrating. But Tim looks like he’s been working harder than I did. Maybe it’s just the power tools involved in what he’s doing though. Which. I’m fairly sure he shouldn’t be doing with his shoulder. My judgement, for the moment, rests only in the set of my mouth though.
“Please tell me you’re just reinventing your color scheme and that you didn’t somehow wreck that thing…”
Tim: “It kind of depends on how you phrase the question. Was I involved in a car wreck with it? No, but I did sort of wreck it first in order to rebuilt it…”
The original iteration of the Cycle was this sort of wicked little crotch rocket. The kind you might find on the roads anywhere. A little suped up by Wayne R&D to be a gulch runner and cliff jumper. The project had been abandoned when Wayne Corp decided not to pursue that particular government contract. I then inherited the blue prints. One night, I added rockets. A couple weeks later, I needed a security system. Then a rebreather for underwater submersion. Some rockets, just in case…. eventually a third wheel was needed to hold the balance. Then the Bike was more of a Trike. Which in reality was more or less a tank on three wheels.
And now? Now it’s undergone some more changes. The bright reds and yellows have been replaced with blood-red and black. The weight has kicked it up another couple notches, what with the added armor I’ve been welding on as Canary sauntered down the steps. I may have replaced the blunt rockets with sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles. And maybe there’s an outfitting for a railgun (or two), but it’s mostly the same bike. Er. Trike. If you look closely enough.
“No no, I’m genuinely sorry. It’s not untrue. I truly did think I locked the stairwell doors too,” she can’t see the smile beneath that mask, but I know she’ll hear it in the banter. That’s what we do, after all. “Nice pick up though, it’s a little more invasive than a color change.”
Putting down the soldering tool with one hand and lifting up the mask with the other, gives way to both laying eyes on the canary -and- wiping the swear from my brow at the same time. Those gloves are next, because they’re big and bulky. Good for keeping you from being burnt by the work, but not really good for anything else. Especially conversation, if thats what Dinah is hear for. Another long look at her tells me a little more to it than that. She’s in uniform. That makes this either an official visit or she’s playing the ‘more distracting than usual’ card. Hell, it may even be a both scenario in which case I need hands free and mind focused.
“Plus, I wanted to test out the microbes,” there’s a momentary hitch, then a sigh, before explaining a little more. “Bruce’s oldest friend, Lucius Fox, had been working on an experimental microbe. Once injected in to your system, it repairs damaged tissue. Speeds up the process. His microbes are rebuilding my shoulder. Much more efficient than being sidelined.”
Dinah: “I guess I’ll take it. Plus, this way you’re busy with a machine that’s not mine.”
There’d been some death threats involved the last time I thought he was about to get to chasing that wild hare. Part banter, every conversation I have ever had with Tim Drake has been at least 50% that, part very, very serious. I guess that’s how you know when I really mean it. The sliding scale of sass to whatever else is mixed in with the conversation. I’m the only one of this family, extended weird cousins or otherwise, that isn’t all in for making use of his many, many upgrades. I like my bike as she is, much like most of the rest of my gear. And no amount of gratitude would really offset my healthy, or maybe paranoid, dislike of advanced technology. It’s mutual. We just don’t get along. Anything involving insides that are more electronic than good ol’ fashioned mechanical is exponentially more likely to implode in my presence. Invasive. His word for what he’s doing to his trike makes me smirk because… that’s about what I think of it, too. He’s just into this kind of stuff. He really can’t help it.
“Just a sorry, not sorry situation. Well. Then I’m sorry, too. Lost opportunity to test out me versus your door.”
I would have, after all, just seen it as a challenge or an admission that he was doing something he shouldn’t be down here and therefor I needed to pry. The latter isn’t necessarily out yet, but I was headed this way regardless. His explanation? Necessary, as one eyebrow lifts, the other squinching downwards in accusation because that just sounds like he’s testing… well. No. Maybe it’s exactly what it sounds like.
“How experimental, Tim?”
Going back to the not trusting tech bit… it’s not even just that, though. He’s only barely been taking it easy since his injury, despite my getting bossy about it, but I know putting him down in any real way is going to involve me doing more damage to him in order to offset… everything that makes up Tim. Still. Are these ‘microbes’ of theirs good enough to repair tissue even as he continues to maybe injure it?
“Because I gotta tell you. Trying new things in Gotham lately doesn’t seem to be working out well for anyone. One of the gangs out there tonight was showing both a shocking amount of subtlety and ineptitude at the same time tonight. Don’t be like the gang bangers, Drake.”
Tim: “For the record, the next time I upgrade your bike? I’m going to be so subtle about it, you’ll never know. Just to prove how subtle I can be.”
See? Two of us can play the game of words. Because in a single swoop I’ve all but promised to test her boundaries, just as she did about the door. And I’ve made it clear that I already did. Not to mention set up a challenge of her even discovering if I had or will do so in the future. It’s a good thing I took off that soldering mask, because it lets her see the sheer amount of smirk involved with this bit of gaming with her. This feels a lot better than being told to sit on the sidelines.
I may or may not hate being told what to do. Especially by someone that doesn’t heed their own advise. That doesn’t mean I lost the ability to see their rational truth of their worry. Nor that I’m unaware or unappreciative of the concern that drives it. Maybe that’s also why I answer her next question. “Experimental enough that Lucius was making a Locutus of Borg joke in my ear when you tripped the alarms by entering the stairwell.”
“There’s nothing to worry about, said only the stupidest people ever. Which is why we hard coded a kill command. Lucius can terminate the microbes with a single word. I’m an evil genius, Dinah, but I’m not stupid. The government wanted the OMAC project to create repairable super-soldiers. Wayne Corp dead-ended the project when they tried to strong arm Lucius in to not putting a kill-switch in. With it, even the government knew it was more or less harmless. No evil robots. I promise.”
“Nothing to worry about. My arm will be as good as new by tomorrow. Better than new.” Waggling my brows. “Let’s stop talking about my arm and talk about the real best application of these babies. Let’s just say no one is ever going to need the blue pill again…care to give it a test drive?”
Dinah: That judgmental, displeased set of my mouth? Yeah, it’s back. If only for a very brief moment. I let him see that, more than let him get the reaction out of me because he may just be trying to get a rise out of me, and if that’s the case I don’t really want to give him the satisfaction. We’ll just let him think I might believe him. Mostly because I don’t doubt that he may try. It’s easy enough to let that look be wiped away by one of blank incomprehension though, like I do not get the reference he just made.
Because I don’t get the reference he just made.
“Well. That sounds like something only you special supernerds would understand soooo…”
But government projects and why they’re not great things to want to facilitate for us? That’s right up my alley. In fact, it’s part of why I’m here right now in the first place. Making sure he’s not doing what I already suspected he was probably doing? That was happening anyway. I already knew he’d been going out. Maybe not throwing himself down any stairs to save the ladies this time, but there’s still the threat anytime you go outside. Or. Live in Gotham. I know that. But I also know heknows that, which is why I didn’t break his knees for him to keep Tim ‘safe’ and at home. Do I think his current ‘partner’ for these excursions is fully able to look out for him? Well. No. I don’t. But I also don’t think she’s so inept anymore as to be an actual threat to Tim out there. Which is the other reason I’m actually here.
“That sounds like something an evil robot would say.” Pause. Coupled with an overly dramatic roll of blue eyes as I park my half-covered ass on top of a crate, emblazoned with the WayneTech logo that I can only assume had something in it that is now inside his ride. Or is going to be later. “And that sounds like something a teenage boy would say. Who should have no reason to know what a blue pill is even for. Maybe you should see a doctor…”
And no. I don’t mean Dr. Drake, with his half dozen phds, if he hasn’t increased that number in the last month while we’ve all been distracted, self-diagnosing in the mirror. But I know he’s not going to, if he hasn’t already, and so it’s a tease. Accompanied by the grin that’s every bit as shit-eating as the one he was aiming at me.
“Tempting as that offer might be to someone else… not why I’m here. I need you to take over with your Spoiler for a little bit. Teach her a weapon. I don’t really care which one, though I wouldn’t really recommend anything pointy because… well. You’ve met her.”
Tim: “Oh, come on. Do you really expect me to believe you’ve never seen the single greatest storyline in American television History? When Captain Picard becomes the bad guy, it’s the most riveting moment… oy, this is what they mean about knowing the customer you’re selling too. Gotcha. Not a Star Trek fan. You’re more a 90210 kinda girl.”
The whole point I was trying to make, was in fact that I do not need to see a Doctor. I’ll take the happy side-effect that she’s at least moderately playing along with the blue pill commentary, that means we’re not about to fight. At least, not a fight that she’s going to start. I can feel the room spinning, so to speak, as she gets to the point. One of the points.
“Take over with my Spoiler? You said a whole lot of things in those five words. First, she might actually punch you right on the nose for saying she’s my anything. Second, taking over with her means you’re going somewhere that won’t allow you to keep doing it. Starting her on a weapon, means you think she’s ready for the next step. Just not a big pointy step.”
“..and this is where I should start by telling you that you shouldn’t go. Or that you should let me go with you. Except that you didn’t let with where or what you’re going. So while you’re ready to accept that I won’t be sidelined, you’re still not ready to accept that I’m ready to be back entirely. Which means that you either don’t think I’m ready to be back enough to help you, which would be insulting and lead to our fighting about it. Or, perhaps more likely, you’re using it as an excuse to not let me put myself in more danger.”
“Or. You’ve thought this through and have decided on a proper allocation of resources,” it’s the free hand that gestures to her at this last bit. “Which would also mean you’ve finally decided to take an active, even decision making, role. Which is what I’m choosing to believe, whether or not it’s true. Because… I really don’t want to fight tonight. Not with you at least.”
Giving her this half-incline of the head, that says I’ll struggle no more with that decision of her’s. Whether or not any of my ‘deductive reasoning’ was sound or just an elaborate mental construct that allows me to compartmentalize her not taking me with her. I realize, this is what I used to do with Bruce too. When he was the partner that didn’t want me along for the ride.
“So. Ollie or Slade? Because I’ve got the information on those tags you wanted me to look at.”
Dinah: “Uh. Yes. I do, in fact, and I’m not even going to get into arguing about using Star Trek and ‘greatest American anything’ in the same sentence with you, either.”
See, he’s baiting me again and while I definitely know what 90210 is, both iterations in fact, they’re not exactly my jam. The guy’s been rooming with me, or at least sleeper sofa surfing in a long-term kind of way. Which should really be the first of the questionable choices he’s opted to make we talk about, but at the time it was having a skulking ex-Robin hanging around my place, or just keeping him where I could see him. Since then, well. I actually don’t mind the company, also there’s perks. Poor boy’s OCD takes care of my usual mess, and keeps the fridge stocked. I happen to like Tim, and when I don’t think he’s too injured to be in the field, I like working with him, too. See? Far cry from my outlook a half-dozen years ago when I treated him like the annoying kid brother. To be fair, that was kind of how Dick looked at me when he was around so… vicious circle I suppose.
“She could try. Does that pretty regularly. She’s just hasn’t managed to succeed.”
Then I find myself letting him… go. I mean I partly want to interrupt because he’s getting going about like ‘his’ Spoiler does. In the you’re probably not going to get in a word, and she’s not actually going to notice if you try because something’s either gotten her so excited or riled that she just can’t. The truth is, I’d only assigned ownership in that he brought her in, in the first place. His problem, that he made my problem because.. well. He’d asked, and I don’t want anyone getting dead out there anymore than he does.
Watching and listening to Tim’s mind spin out all the potentials and angles to be read into a ‘simple’ request from me might be even more funny, if I wasn’t fairly sure this was like a duck floating on water. Relative ‘calm’ on the surface, and paddling like crazy underneath. I’m sure that for as many points as he’s verbalizing there’s twelve more he’s gone through, discarded, and reworked. It’s what I do with a fight, and my angles there. I’m pretty it’s what he does with everything. Evil robot genius and all.
I didn’t lead with where I’m going because… I really don’t need to. I’m not going to sneak and hide, because even I’m not good enough to escape all his eyes in the sky, and… maybe he did mess with my bike so he’d figure it out anyway. As for all the rest… typically I don’t feel I owe anyone an explanation ever, and it’s not why I answer his rumination.
“Believe it or not, this time it has nothing to do with the fact that I might kind of like to punish you for not listening to me lately. You wouldn’t be coming even if you were 110%, because it’s not in anyone’s best interests. Mine. Yours. Gotham’s. Take your pick.”
This isn’t just some fight. Which is probably why I’m so cagey over the whole thing. ‘Just a fight’ I could handle in my sleep. Most of us could. They had to go and make it bigger than that. And so the way I need help from Tim isn’t in the backup category so much as those tags I’d given him, which Slade had given to me. Which apparently he’s already handled.
“Unless I want to teach Spoiler a different fighting form, which I don’t because I think it’d be counter-productive right now, she just needs repetition and practice as far as hand to hand goes. But something else she can use out there as a tool if she needs to…”
It’d also seemed something that might be a suitable distraction for him to occupy time with. I hadn’t known he was down here reinventing the Big Wheel so to speak. If the two of them were in the Nest, working on a ‘project’ then that meant they weren’t out there, one of them lacking a functional arm and the other half-trained. If he picked up on that, at least he didn’t say it out loud, and I guess I further soften the potential with an… admission made as I fold my arms and have a moment of almost sheepish expression cross my face.
“I also may have taken it a little… too hard on her yesterday. For once, not even because she deserved it. So she could probably use a little change of pace from Dinah’s School of Hard Knocks, and I realized it was kind of telling that Ineed to go handle this.”
Reactionary, despite how I might act, isn’t really me. I provoke and make others react. Not running off after that voicemail, and subsequent throttling of someone who I wasn’t actually angry at, took some self-control though. Buttons clearly have been pushed.
“Little of column A, little of column B, but mostly A. If they weren’t basically the same problem, anyway. So I’ll happily take what you’ve got. And maybe even say thank you.”
Tim: “Alright,” now my head is cocked to the side and looking more than a little unhappy at several of the things Dinah has said. “So. Now I’m settling upon ‘She’s already realized that while she could kick my ass ten ways to Sunday, as much better she is at fighting I’m that much better at following people who don’t want to be followed.’ Which means… that you’re taking a different route to waylaying me.”
While not being sure if I should sigh or grin, I do the only thing left to me. Rise. Standing up and stepping around the bike itself. Snatching a towel along the way, from one of the other crates littering the garage-like room. It’s hot, dank and dark here. All the things a Batman would like. As much as I seem at home here, it isn’t until the light is behind me that Dinah can see the bruising along the shoulder is actually gone. I may be playing upon that, to amble closer to her. Piece by piece picking up armor that’s been discarded as I worked in the heat. The wrist mounted computers being the most important, as I need them to put the projected computer image along the walls for her to view.
“Let’s start with the fact that I was able to confirm that the tags were legit. They’re not forged. These are some sort of microchips implants. The were filled with a neurotoxin of some exotic sort. Only trace elements remain, not enough for me to isolate and track. Along with that are lingering traces of DNA, which allowed me to identify who had each implant. Somewhat. A couple sets of DNA belong to people that Bruce had no files on.”
“You and Slade are definitely two of the bearers.”
“The chips track every thing. I mean. Everything. From your heart rate to your serotonin levels. They knew what you were doing, saying, everything. This is next level tech and it’s fifteen years old or more. Thats where it gets a little crazy. I tried to jack some of that information out of them and right away they shorted themselves out. One by one. Each time I got a little more. Until finally, I got a location.”
Pause for effect? Yeah. Also to put myself close enough to Canary that she can see a ripple of movement along my shoulder. Beneath the skin. “I thought I knew everything about you, Dinah. Then I find out you were in Prison? Jail Bird. Tch. If Dick knew he’d have a crush on you. Why were you in Belle Reve Prison? And who is Kurt Lance?”
Dinah: “And I’m also telling you that ass-kicking, and sneaking skills on our parts aside, I don’t think you coming with me. This time. Is the good play. Because that thingthat’s pretending to be Oliver Queen right now is naming names.”
There’s a lot of reasons for Tim to get honest ‘whys’ out of me right now, as much as I might not normally like to operate that way. Biggest of them possibly being that I don’t want him trailing behind me because he thinks I’m excluding him because he’s hurt. Or because he thinks I think he’s not good enough. Which I would just tell most people, but… I guess I’ve got kind of a soft spot. Just not the one that his brother might like to tease/accuse me of.
I’m not into all this tech. I don’t use it. I can’t deny that other people using it that know what they’re doing? Useful. So I’ve uncrossed my arms and leaned in towards the projection, as if that’ll help me see it better than I already can.
“Fairchild. Bronson. Trevor. Waller. I don’t have first names for them, except Amanda could… or might not be… the same Waller, and our good buddy Superman works with a Dr. Fairchild. Again. Could or couldn’t be the same, I don’t know, but frankly when your circles are small, things are pretty rarely coincidences. Which means those are probably ones you do have files on.”
There’s no hiding, or even trying, the mounting annoyance and frustration on my face now. I’m a control freak on occasion, a fact that’s no mystery to Timothy Drake or really… anyone in his family at this point. I hadn’t been able to come up with any possible reason why it would benefit Slade Wilson to make this whole thing up, or come to me with it in the first place, if he wasn’t telling the truth as he knew it. What I’m being told right now erases any small, comforting doubt I might have managed to summon up. He’s also making as many new questions as he is filling in blanks. That’s a lot of information, and price probably paid for tech, for it to have just been that one night in Arkham. Which means more time lost and missing. More unexplained.
When he stops, I’m waiting. Eyebrow lifting again as I pull my eyes from the projections to look at Tim properly again. It’s probably only the seriousness of what we’re talking about now that keeps me from commenting on his shoulder, and the rather unsettling sight of something. Things. Wriggling under his skin. Microbes sound tiny, so I can only assume what I’m watching is muscles and tendons being rewritten and repaired like they were no more than one of his strings of code. I can’t decide if that’s creepy or amazing or both, so I keep Alien references to myself. Can’t quite manage to skip clucking my tongue about his brother though.
“Oooh, Grayson likes the bad girls, huh? It explains so much… if I’d known, I’d have a crush on me too to be fair. I mean. Look at me.”
The blank on drawing, which is clear enough on my face, is legitimate.
“I don’t know, Tim. On any of it. Frankly I’d been hoping Wilson was tripping balls on some bad combination of drinks and ninja blood from the Iceberg. I’ve got no memory of any of the things he said happened. Or of being in any prison for any reason other than the usual here in Gotham for us, or the couple of tours I went on in Star for school. Whatever reason I was there, I assume is the same reason that we were all made to not remember it after.”
Tim: “Actually, that explains the neuro-toxin,” keying a couple touches of the wrist controls the illuminated screens turn upon the tiny pellet-shaped microchip. “See this? It contained two small amounts of toxin. Each of them with a purpose. I think one of them was putting a timer on you. You had X amount of time to finish your assignment and get the antidote. Which was the other. Once triggered, I think it stopped the toxin from killing you by eliminating the poisoned brain cells.”
“Sinister, but effective. Either you died or succeeded with no memory of succeeding.”
“Hmm. Interesting. Soo…” Another set of touches along my wrist and faces start to splash the wall beside Canary. “… so if we extrapolate your timeline, this happened a little more than a decade ago. You were Stephanie’s age. That means the Dr. Fairchild that I know from Conner, would have been eight. Too young, so perhaps this means our Fairchild in question? Is one Alex Fairchild. Caitlyn’s Father. He works, currently, for the project that created Conner.”
“Bronson? There’s a Bronson in Bruce’s files. Part of the overall same project that Alex Fairchild and his daughter work for. That created Conner. According to our intel on that Project, Bronson was some sort of early subject of testing for majestic gene therapy.”
“I don’t need to research Steve Trevor, Captain Trevor. Decorated U.S. Army, Green Beret special forces. Because he happens to be one of the sources of Bruce’s files on the entire project. Somewhere along the line, Captain Trevor discovered the fountain of youth. He’s been alive since the 40s, and he looks like he could still go ten rounds with you. In a ring or bed. Take your pick. Maybe even both. He’s gone silent since Bruce’s passing. I’ve been unable to make contact, but I’ve actually been working on the assumption he just doesn’t know me or trust me. If you could make contact maybe that could be changed….”
“As for Waller…” That’s where I just turn the gauntlet’s projector off. “It doesn’t take a detective to know you’re right about it being Amanda Waller. It makes sense when you connect the other dots. They’re all interlaced. It also solves a mystery that Bruce has never figured out.”
“Your Grand Mother. She made a deal with the Agency, scored her whole family immunity for her service. A little more than decade ago she suddenly quit…. and… not too long after that, you know.”
Arms crossing over my chest, I take a moment to nudge my jaw at the trike and the work I’ve done on it. “No fight this time. Go, I’ll hold down the fort while you and Dick are gone.”
Red Robin: “Stanford? And you’re saying that it was his idea,” the way in which a gloved hand strokes squared jaw tells a story. “Hrm. So many questions, but this wasn’t a social call this time.”
At this point in Cassandra’s life she should be getting used to a great deal many things. However I’m fairly sure that I just managed to scare the bejesus out of her. If it wasn’t when her phone came alive on the hotel dresser and grew wings with which to flitter across the room to where it could cast a hologram of the Red Robin next to Cassie’s bed? Then it was probably rousing to find Red Robin next to her bed.
“He’s not here,” the reassurance is as much about how we know he would react to my presence, as it about cutting her off in the immediate search for her boyfriend in the bed next to her. “His handlers summoned him earlier this morning to be Honor Guard for what’s going on in Khandaq.”
“Fortuitous, actually, because you won’t need to worry about misleading him this time. I’ve sent a file on your next assignment to your phone. It’ll also be a good chance for you to make an impression at the Tower, since she’s there. Unlike Freeman, this isn’t a cake walk. She doesn’t know it, but your next assignment is in trouble. You might not have to deal with Conner, but if she’s within the Tower’s incomplete sensors then you know Nowhere is aware of her too. If she’s not already been made, she will be any time now.”
“No training wheels this time, I’m still recovering and Batman says he doesn’t think you need a babysitter. If you need Backup, your phone has the Flash’s emergency card number. But for now… he is your only backup.”
It’s then that Cassie will realize that this isn’t a call. It’s a voice mail. The digital hologram variety. Because it repeats. Over and over. Until she actually touches the phone to turn off the message. Properly marked as ‘Urgent’ in her inbox. It will take slightly more time getting Razerbeak to pull in it’s wings and resume being her cellphone.
Cassie: Wonder Woman’s not a morning person.
Actually, a better assessment would be that while I’m not really a morning person, I can manage the rise and shine part just fine. It’s being woken unceremoniously that I happen to be struggling with, in the form of my brain not being able to process what project it should get to work on first, getting tousled blonde hair out of my face so that I can fully see, or the moral question of what’s more important: making sure I’m between Tim and any eye lasers that are about to get shot at him, or getting anything that’s uncovered that I don’t want him to see covered. If my brain moved at the pace that Conner’s does, then I probably could have come to a couple clear conclusions a lot more quickly. If I was actually awake I probably could have managed in a more respectable fashion.
What it actually looks like is some semi-undignified thrashing under the sheets of the bed. I haven’t been asleep nearly long enough, which explains why my boyfriend leaving didn’t wake me up at all, and neither did the phone doing what it apparently does now. It’s only the familiar voice that had jerked me awake and sent me into a befuddled, panicked whirl of motion.
“What the Hell, Tim!”
Hearing that ‘he’s not here’ soothes me a little, so we’re back to just being a touch grumpy about being woken up, and the intrusion. I want to ask how he knows where we are but, that’s a stupid question. That and he carries right on past my objections in a very Tim Drake sort of way, because the mission. Leaving me to snug the sheet up under my armpits and fold my arms across my chest for good measure, mentally attempting to suppress the blush. There’s not really a good reason for it because it’s not like our best friend, of all people, doesn’t know exactly what we get up to. Mostly because Conner Luthor has less than zero shame, and he’s a perceptive guy anyway.
“You actually think I’m going to need backup? Giant crocodiles was fine but…”
I already have realized at this point that Tim’s not really there. Why would he be? Other than a very brief emergency trip to Gotham, and a mission to Central, it’s the only way that I’ve ‘seen’ him since he left Metropolis after his father’s death. It might be a family thing for all I know, holograms, not the death portion. Ugh. What a morbid thought. It hadn’t occurred to me, however, that it was pre-recorded, so there’s a moment of confusion when he begins to repeat himself. Though, I suppose it explains the talking over top of me. Leaving me grumbling, and poking and prodding the very fancy phone, while still keeping the bed sheets up because, well. The media likes to pretend that our cell phones are spying on us but… they have no idea.
“…I’m putting you in the drawer next time…”
Terra: Standing in front of the jukebox in the back of the bar she had wandered into only moments ago, Tara ran a recently manicured fingernail along the upper selections of songs and paused almost immediately. Tapping her finger a few times as if carefully considering her options she reaches into her pocket and finding a quarter removes it. Sliding it into the slot and then another and still another Tara begins to move to the beat as T.N.T by AC/DC begins to thump through the bar much to the chagrin of the late night patrons who when she had entered the place seemed more interested in sleep then anything else. The mood had been rather somber and that just wouldn’t suit Tara at all.
Each one was a little louder then the first as she began to sing along to the words and make her way back toward the large and well neared man manning the bar, without even asking he slid an overflowing beer toward her. Perhaps he hoped drinking it would at least put an end to the singing. Snatching up the beer and drinking most of it in a few deep gulps Tara spit out a little of the beer as the chorus kicked in again.
“T…N…T…come on Metropolis….live a little..”
Shrugging as not a soul moved to join in her antics Tara begins her dance again and moves back toward the jukebox, she had had a good night and was determined to make her mood infectious. It had been a month or more since she had stopped those muggers with her abilities and her eyes had been awaken to just how much fun she could have with them. She had been warned against just this sort of thinking, but Slade had been absent for months, years even.
Really what’s the worse a little shaking and sliding to her benefit could bring down on her?
Cassie: Whether or not Superman’s on the other side of the planet, I know how very little time that takes to change. Logically, I also know that Red Robin thinks I’ve got enoughtime, otherwise I would probably have been roused as soon as Conner was out of earshot. Getting dressed doesn’t take much time, and other than a brief glance in the mirror over the state of my mop of blonde hair I don’t need to do much else to prepare outside of reading up on what information I’ve been given. The latter of which I do while deciding that bedhead for me doesn’t look a whole lot different than post-flight, wind ruffled hair and just leaving it be.
Where I actually lose a little bit of time is in my brief trip to Coast City. He hadn’t been wrong about the appearance where the Tower is being erected, even if there’s only so much buzz I’m going to generate in the middle of the night. It’s a very short trip by air from Stanford, where Conner and I had actually been visiting for the weekend to do a little research. Not on Coast City, or the Tower or any of what Wayne Enterprises is doing out there. Very mundane scoping of housing, actually, in the normal teenage rite of passage that is preparing to apply for and hopefully attend the college of your choice. Very little doubt of getting in, full of myself as that sounds, because of my grades and test scores and zero for him because he’s a Luthor who pretends to be just good enough at basketball to be incredible but not superhuman. I guess normally we’d have a parental escort and not be shacked up in a hotel together but… my Mom’s apparently an Amazonian badass, and his Dad’s President for Life. Not factoring in my God Dad, and his Kryptonian one. There’s nothing normal about that situation at all. I spend a little bit of time zooming about as I finish reading the dossier.
She used to be here, but not anymore. For more current whereabouts I have to go back to Metropolis. Clear on the other side of the country. Thanks a lot, Tim, you couldn’t have given me this on Monday morning? But I believe him about the time press. He wouldn’t have said it otherwise. It takes me a shade over fifteen minutes to get from California to the East Coast, rocketing through the dark sky, and finding myself wishing I had more time to enjoy the night flight than what I’ve got. Mostly because this? Is the best part about my new life.
A little more time wasted in a brief trip to my house in order to grab clothes. Not to change more to… cover up. Because I’m not trying to out this girl, but I also don’t want to out myself. Hopefully the spangly red of my suit passes for leggings under the skirt I pull on, and the hoodie that gets settled over my upper half, and hair as I’m pushing my way into the bar.
Believe it or not, this is a first for me. A bar. Unlike the girl I’m here to see? I actually look old enough to be in here, but that’s only because the Wonder Woman suit comes custom made with facial alteration hologram technology. Adding at least eight years to my face, and subtly altering the structure so as to make me unrecognizable. I bypass the bar proper, instead letting blue eyes wander over the patrons. There’s only one option here to fit the description.
Terra: Tara had made her way back to leaning on the jukebox at this point and her concentration had fully been given to it. Her hands sat with a loose grip atop the box as she slowly moved her hips to what by now had changed to Judas Priest. Her eyes closed Tara moved her head now to the song as one of her favorites choruses kicked in prompting more singing.
“Breaking the law….breaking the law…YES.
The volume of the song combined with her own off key additions to the harmonies nearly muffled the sound of her name, or at least one of her names being said by Cassie. Nearly, but not entirely and having heard it her grip on the jukebox tightened considerably.
Her head turned slowly to face Cassie, confusion quickly overtaking her features, and maybe just a little fear. Had that girl Sublime told someone about her?
“My name is Mackenzie…you must have me confused with someone else.”
With that says her eyes move back to looking through the songs on the jukebox.
Cassie: I may not be the ace detective of our little… conglomerate… but I’m still observant enough, especially when I’m already wary about how this may, or may not go. Beyond that, my vision’s sharp enough to notice the flexing, if not whitening, of her knuckles on the top of the juke box. I don’t close between us, so much as sidestep closer to the wall, if not closer to Terra herself. Letting the overly loud English rock band compete with my words to reach anyone else’s ears past the two of us, as well as trying to not make her feel cornered. This is so very different than my last solo attempt. Because it’s more personal, a one on one instead of a battle-forged connection. Then there’s also the danger of exactly what I want to try to prevent and… why this needs to be done while Conner’s busy with whatever is going on in Khandaq.
“Okay. Mackenzie, then, if that’s what you prefer.”
It doesn’t matter to me what I call her, it’s more about her comfort. Besides. I’m currently wearing a disguise, over top of a costume, and wearing a face that’s not actually mine. Who am I to judge on this particular front? Pushing my hands casually into the pockets of my sweatshirt is a non-threatening posture as I lean my shoulder into the wall, but it also exposes more of the glittering gold of my gauntlets.
“But I don’t have you confused with someone else.”
So, Cassie. What would you have wanted someone to say to you, after that first time you ripped the gym door off the hinges like they were paper? Or when you tripped and powdered the concrete into fine dust and you were confused, and scared, and felt so very, very alone? I still had the anchor of my Mom though, and while I can’t know for sure, her moving around the country and being in a bar in the middle of the night tells me this girls’ probably way more alone than I ever thought I might have been.
“It feels good, doesn’t it? Using something that’s scary about yourself to stop something real and scary out in the world?”
Terra: Dropping her head down her eyes shutting tight for a moment before she pushes off the jukebox and turns to fully face Cassie. Her eyes move quickly over the girl in front of her as she takes a step closer looking down to the small hint of gold on Cassie’s arm.
A quizzical expression moves across her face as she sees the strange object. Leaning in for a closer look she turns her face a bit closer to Cassie’s and begins speaking in a low tone.
“Well aren’t you a regular After school special…I don’t know who you think I am…
Stopping a moment as she gestures to the door.
“But you have the wrong person…I’m just a normal girl next door type. Mundane in every way. Now you skip away to a Pep rally or something I’m busy.”
Cassie: There’s a brief moment, very brief, where I want very badly to look down and double check which skirt I actually put on when I left my house. I don’t exactly have a lot of them, I’ve always been much more of a tee-shirt and jeans kind of girl but I still own a couple. A solid chunk of them, however, are cheerleading skirts, or the plaid of Saint Mary’s blue and grey prep school uniforms. No. I wasn’t so tired after my flight as to have made either that tactical error, or fashion fashion faux pas. I’m a little taken aback by her defensiveness but I recognize pretty quickly that I shouldn’t be. I more or less tried a similar denial when I was first approached by my abilities.
I’m being a lot nicer than Conner was to me, though. Or at least, I was trying.
Pursing my lips, I change tacks, pushing my hoodie back off my forehead enough to expose the golden tiara that’s the newest addition to my Wonder Woman attire, thanks to my Mother.
“We both know that’s not true. I’m not going to push you. But if I know? Then so do people who are not going to try to be your friend and will skip straight to detain and neutralize. Especially here in Metropolis. You were safer in Coast City.”
Terra: If Terra were to be perfectly honest her first impulse when Coast City is mentioned is to drop the entire bar into the sewers underneath them all. This decidedly stupid course of action is tempered by the fact doing so would likely kill everyone else in the place and while she was a lot of things Terra was no murderer. So rather then make herself a headline she instead burst into laughter her arms crossing her chest as she nearly hits the floor from the giggles now coming over her.
“OMG…what is that?!
Taking a deep breath and visibly forcing her bellyaches away she composes herself and holds up her hands in apology. The immense grin on her face however seems unable or unwilling to leave.
“Okay..okay…what the hell let’s talk Princess…my god a tiara…”
Cassie: The burst of laughter takes me a little by surprise, easy enough to tell by the widening of blue eyes, though that expression doesn’t turn to annoyance so much as an arched eyebrow of amusement at what Terra’s found so darn funny that it has interrupted her denials and attempts at getting me to leave her alone. Does it really look that ridiculous or is she just…stressed? Defense mechanism? If that’s going to set her off into hysterical giggles than it’s doubly good that I chose to put the skirt and hoodie on over the rest of my outfit. Which I thought was pretty ridiculous when it was first presented to me, too.
“It’s an heirloom. Probably an antique. I didn’t ask, didn’t want to offend the person that gave it to me by implying…”
That my Mother is an antique herself. Which she may very well be, no matter how she happens to look. One of the many facets of who I am, that I know now, that I haven’t fully wrapped my brain around yet. Going from your biggest concern being prep school bullies, to hiding superpowers, and then straight on to Gods are actually real and your father is one was a lot to take in. And clearly, the info dump hadn’t been about to just stop there.
But. Clearly it hadn’t been the identifying mark I had hoped that it might have been. I suppose it hasn’t exactly been part of my ‘uniform’ for a long time. Or maybe I was reaching with the assumption that this girl would even care, or pay attention to, who Wonder Woman is. Moving away from the wall, and the jukebox, I sweep a hand towards one of the back booths.
“Unless you’d rather go outside…?”
Terra: Tara took a moment to compose herself taking care not to glance back up to the tiara. Cassie wouldn’t know this but seeing it had actually put Tara at ease as she knew the men who likely still pursued her would never have sent someone like this. No those men favorited all black everything and did not announce their presence in such a well mannered way. So it would be out of curiosity that Tara would entertain the woman standing before her.
“Riiiiight….the only heirloom I was given was a battered postcard from a place I barely remember.”
Giving Cassie a shrug of her shoulders that said she really didn’t have any fucks to give she turns and begins walking toward one of the unoccupied booths closest to the back and right up against the wall. The man who had taken her from Markovia had insisted often and loudly that she always maintain proper site lines in case she had to run. While it could not be said she listened to everything he said this she had retained.
Sliding in on the side closest to the wall she holds up a hand with two fingers up for the bartender to see, once he nods she aims them at the table.
“I appreciate the beer by the way…you do have money in that thing right?”
Tara says with a devilish smile across her lips as Cassie moves to sit across from her.
Cassie: I feel a little silly, I suppose rightfully so given my attire, but I’d been left with two not so great options. Show up to speak to this girl in my normal clothes, using my real face, and I’m not anymore old enough to be in this bar than she is. Or turn up in full Wonder Woman regalia, drawing attention to myself and therefor her. So I’d gone with this hybrid of the two. I’ve been spending more and more time in the red, clingy spangles of Wonder Woman but usually it’s when I’m fighting, or doing something that doesn’t give me time to second guess my attire. This is a little… different. I let her have the seat she wants, because which one I sit in doesn’t matter to me. Not only because I haven’t had it drilled into my head tactically as the lesser of the two options to have my back to the room.
But because I don’t really think anything or anyone in this room is really going to be a threat to me that I can’t deal with. Maybe that’s cocky of me. Maybe Conner’s rubbing off on me… sliding into the side of the booth that’s left, I pull my hood back up over my hair, and the tiara as I look at Terra with interest.
“Oh? Where’s that?”
I used to love collecting postcards, from all the places I went with my mother on her digs. But that’s Cassie Sandsmark’s childhood past time. Not Wonder Woman’s. The first real look of concern that crosses my face is when she signals for drinks, and my lips purse. She’s not old enough to be drinking I don’t think. I’m definitely not old enough to be buying, even if I might look like I am at the moment. And this outfit doesn’t exactly have pockets, except for the sweatshirt that I’ve brought nothing in except my phone. Well. Hopefully Tim made the thing with all the usual capabilities of a phone.
“As long as they take Apple Pay. Is this a normal… thing for you here? Because he doesn’t seem to mind bringing them for you. But none for me, thank you.”
Why am I thanking her? She wants me to pay for both of them. And I probably should just refuse but… I don’t know. I want to do this ‘job’ that I’m still not sure I’m fully equipped for, or capable of. So. I just go on winging it, like so much else.
Folding my arms on the edge of the table, I turn my attention away from Bartender With No Problem Serving Minors, and back to Terra.
“Do you have somewhere safe you can go? I don’t want to assume, after the way you’ve moved around the country but..”
Terra: The expression on Terra’s face only widens at Cassie’s reaction to her ordering drinks. She holds up a hand while the other reaches into the purse she had previously had dangling by her side but now sat on the table. Sliding out a card rectangular object that as she slides it across the table reveals itself to be a drivers license.
“Why would he mind? I’m twenty one as of…”
Taking a moment to glance back down at the card on the table she then continues.
“A month ago. Apple Pay.”
Tilting her head to look to the bartender who only shakes his head at the unspoken question about if they accept that particular form of currency. This causes Terra’s amused veneer to fade for a fraction of a section while she fumbles around in her purse for the cash to pay. Finding it she quickly hands it over and takes both beers.
“It was…nowhere important I shouldn’t have said anything.”
Sliding one of the beers closer Terra let’s her eyes fall down a moment as if something sad had just hit her memory and she could not easily shake it. With the beer close enough to sip she does so once then again.
“I have lots of places to go, if any of them are safe is anyone’s guess. No ones found me yet.”
Cassie: Tilting my head to the side, my eyes drop to the driver’s license that she’s slid out onto the table thinking that perhaps I had misjudged exactly how old she appears to be, but after a partial squint at the identification in question, mixed with her having to look at the thing to know when her own birthday is? It’s surely fake. Which takes me back to the bartender probably doesn’t really care. As for me, I’m left shrugging my shoulders in the apology that I won’t actually say on the matter.
“Uh huh. I didn’t expect to find you here. Or to be making any… purchases. But I can…”
Give you money like a charity case? Already she doesn’t exactly read like someone who would go in for that, and I don’t want to push her away now that we’re sitting here and talking, so I quickly course correct that thought.
“…go get money to repay you.”
I don’t miss her reaction, especially with the backtracking on the subject and that makes me not want to press the matter. At least not right now. I don’t really want to make her uncomfortable, or to shut me out any more. So I let the conversation be steered along with the original purpose of my visit.
“I did. And someone I work with found you before I did. There’s another group out there. NOWHERE. That could have, too, already. I’m trying to help people like you. And me. To have options that aren’t just government detention and conscription.”
Terra: Terra reaches out for the I.D with the the one hand not yet clutching a beer. Catching it just at the edge of the table between two of her fingers she brings it up closer to her face and quickly looks it over. Barely restraining the urge to roll her eyes as more then one typo reveals itself in the inspection. Still it had done the job up to this point, so it would be placed back into her purse.
“Well you got me there I guess…”
Bringing the beer up for another series of sips as she listens to Cassie try to convince her of just how much trouble she was in. The only problem being that Terra had been in trouble since the day she had left Markovia. As if she had been given a choice in the matter. Terra hated being told what she had to do because for as long as she could remember someone had been telling her what to do.
It had started with her mother a scientist, and then it was Slade the hired killer and now it was some girl wearing a tiara.
“You want to help me? Well aren’t you just a regular saint….what’s in it for you and your friend huh? I don’t know you or Nowhere and I don’t much trust you.”
Cassie: The corner of my mouth tugs upwards as I fight a smile at her admission. I have no way of knowing if NOWHERE is onto her or not, but I have to just assume they are. As Tim had said, if the half-finished sensors on his ‘little’ building project in Coast City had detected this girl, then chances are being so much closer to the center of things here in Metropolis had definitely caught some notice. Especially with her heroics. Which aren’t a bad thing in my mind, just an activity that draws attention.
“No, I’m not. And I don’t pretend to be, either. I’m someone who thinks that people like us can do a lot of good. Do do a lot of good, and could do more if we were allowed. In it for me…?”
I seem startled by the question, and I think I might actually be about to let myself be a little offended. But I remember that conversation with Tim Drake, or rather, Red Robin in my Mother’s office and his correction about my agenda, or lack thereof. Yes. I have one. Maybe my head doesn’t like to think of it in those terms, and the connotations that might come with it, but it’d be a lie to pretend there’s nothing that could be ‘in it’ for us. Blowing out a soft breath, I lean back into the booth and push my hands into my sweatshirt’s pockets.
“You don’t have a reason to. Which I understand and I’d like to be able to change that. I’m looking for more people like you, who might want to do that good in the world, to maybe join my friends and I. But if you don’t want to choose that, then at the very least? I want to keep NOWHERE from snatching you up off the street and taking away what choices you do have. I won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do.”
Terra: Turning the beer up for another sip only to find it empty Terra sits it back and on the table and then moves it to the side. Her eyes move to the second bottle I’m front of her but for the moment she does not reach for it. Despite what her body language might suggest Terra listened intently to each word Cassie had to say. Her expression would paint a picture of disinterest and outright dismissal out of habit more then anything. Terra simply couldn’t help but project the sort of vibe that kept people off balance.
“Look..it’s not like that’s unappealing.”
Throwing up her hands in a small show of frustration Terra now reaches out for the second bottle, but only slides it closer and does not open it.
“But I’ve spent most of my life hiding and for good reason…and what you want to go out and play hero?”
Cassie: Well. This is really going nothing like any of the other pitches had, is it? In my head, I’m jokingly telling myself that maybe Conner’s recruitment/pep talks might not be the totally wrong way to go, except that I meant what I said. I’m not out to force something on anyone. In my eyes, that wouldn’t make me any different, or better, than NOWHERE. Maybe this all just goes better when there’s some sort of conflict in progress, in order to really show where you stand, and who you are… or maybe she’s just not someone who’s going to be impressed. Or let herself be. I don’t exactly need a map drawn for me. She’s talking now about spending all her time hiding, she spoke earlier very, very briefly about somewhere she barely remembers but was important enough to hang onto a postcard for, and the also brief sad look she’d had before it had gotten quashed back under the indifference and attitude.
And that’s okay. No, it’s not how I might have wanted this to play out but that? Not up to me. All I get to do is try my best to make her want to trust me. And I don’t get the feeling that’s going to happen tonight.
“That used to be me, too. I thought I had to hide what I could do, who I am, from almost everyone. Maybe it works out better for you, but I didn’t want to live like that anymore.”
And maybe I also wouldn’t have chosen this life either but once I got pushed out there? I know there’s no going back for me. I couldn’t do it. And I don’t want to either. I also know that I’m lucky. That Conner affords me a level of protection that other people don’t get, and that’s a leeway I’m taking advantage of right now. Eventually it’s not going to hold up anymore, and then I need to be… we all need to be prepared. There’s a faint shrug of my shoulders, as I purse my lips for a moment but otherwise refuse to rise to the bait of ‘playing’ at being a hero.
“How did it make you feel when you stopped those men? Were you just experimenting and decided eh, not for me? Or did it make you feel something else? You don’t have to answer that. Just… think about it. Here. I’m going to give you an address, and…”
Dropping my eyes for the first time, I’m digging out the sleek red phone from my pocket. I’d placed it on silent mode before coming back to Metropolis, though I wasn’t sure that would actually do anything since Tim’s intrusive holo-messages had made it through just the same. I suppose he’s probably got some super-access since he made the thing. Or it’s just part of the whole Bat-thing of being where you’re not expected to be. My nose actually wrinkles as I cringe in my seat at the litany of missed alerts that seem to have come in, in the last fifteen minutes, and who they’re from but for the moment I disregard them to pull up the information from Red Robin’s database that I’m looking for.
“…ahem. If you want to keep hiding, or need to, that’s your call to make. Not mine. This is a place here in Metropolis that is safe if you feel like someone is trying to push you into something you don’t want. You’re free to use it. No catch. No expectations.”
I’m sliding myself out of the booth’s seat even as I talk, thumb still whirling through screens and information until I find what I need.
“I apologize. Apparently I need to go play hero…”
Okay so maybe I didn’t totally let that one go.
“… but if you want to, or need to, get a hold of me there’ll be a way to do that there.”
ST: Ra’s al Ghul had not mislead Damien when he provided the boy with the location of his Mother. Sandy Hook: Admiral Docks. This isn’t your average Warehouse district sort of Boat Dock. Considered to be one of the wealthier areas in all of Gotham, Sandy Hooks is most notably home to Gotham Stadium. It is the tourist district of the otherwise gloomy Gotham skyline. You won’t find any homeless people here. No dark alleys. Very little crime.
What you will find is the Admiral Docks, where the wealthiest members of Gotham’s Elite harbor their boats. We’re not talking about an industrial district. This is a well lit harbor, with Yachts ranging from personal pleasure boats to Bruce Wayne’s own super-liner that hosts the New Years Eve celebration each year.
Security for the Admiral Docks is a mixture of personal security provided by the society members who bring their boats in to port and Port Authority, which is the naval portion of Gotham’s Police Department.
Each Yacht in the Port is more elaborate than the next. With every rich family in the City seemingly out to establish their own personal stature in the community, by making their water-bound homes more and more lavish than the next. Searching them all would take days, if not months given how difficult it would be to acquire the proper search warrants.
Luckily Ra’s al Ghul didn’t need to worry about red tape. He provided Damien with the exact Vessel. Destiny. A super-yacht. The 174 meter Luursen-class yacht can accommodate a whopping 75 people comfortably for a six month cruise. Three times that number can come aboard for an evenings party. Even in the dark of night the Destiny can be seen from all angles for miles due to the halo-lighting that serves as both ego-massage and security because the illumination makes it impossible to approve even from -beneath the boat- without being seen even by the naked eye. In fact this miracle liner is known for that very feature, as it actually causes the water for nearly 100 yards to illuminate in such a way that passengers can see the bottom as if it were pristine coastal waters.
Nothing about the boat is amiss, to the naked eye. Though neighboring Yachts have been complaining of late about the loud music and party that has seemed non-stop for almost two weeks straight.
Damien: The harbor wasn’t exactly Damien had in mind when his grandfather told him where his mother was being held. And on board the Destiny, nonetheless. It wasn’t going to be easy, there was no real way to approach the luxury yacht stealthy. If he was going to get in at all, he was going to need help. First, he needed Timothy to get him a layout of the yacht. If they were going to go in, they needed to know exactly where everything was. Everything was going to have to be figured out on the spot. Damien wasn’t going to wait to see what happened with his mother.
Second, He was going to need backup. As confident as Damien was in his own abilities, he knew this was going to require help. Calling Dinah and Richard to come help him was … hard. Damien was much like his father in this regard, not liking to have to ask for help. And when he did, he despised it. It wasn’t going to take long to get towards the docks, going in by air, ground or water wasn’t going to matter. “Timothy.” saying all too calmly as he brought his younger brother on the comm. “Will you be able to turn off the halo?” asking as he started coming up onto the harbor.
“Also. I will require information about this yacht. And do make it quick. I will be onto harbor grounds in approximately fifteen minutes. You will be our eyes and ears, Timothy. The Oracle, if you will.”
Dinah: Normally? There’d be some razzing about the phone call. Maybe more than a little but the tone of voice made it clear enough that I should save the pushing for after this is finished. I don’t want Damien, or any of them, to think that I won’t help. Especially when I’m asked. Because lets face it, normally I’m much more the in your business whether you want me to be or not kind of woman. This isn’t exactly a private matter anymore. Not once the League turned up in the city. Now it’s all hands on deck, or at least all hands that are functional and capable, and I’m still wishing there were a few more to be counted among that number.
Good thing I never let myself get totally drunk. It’s not the night to be off your game in even the slightest.
“Is the Batplane still potentially in kamikaze mode? Air’d be the closest thing to a surprise entrance you can hope for with those lights, and that’s still not going to be a lot.”
Explains so much though. We’ve been over the rest of Gotham, so has the League I assume, and no one had found hide nor hair (Ugh, both have strong potentials with who has her) of Talia al’Ghul. No one thought to check the one part of Gotham that’s usually off limits, and so… of course the Joker would have selected it for his hideout. Insanity doesn’t equal stupidity, unfortunately.
ST: “The ‘Halo’ is unfortunately a hard wired feature. Someone will need to disable it from onsite. Giving you a layout of the Destiny isn’t a problem though. There are essentially six decks. With the upper most deck being a helicopter pad, deck two is the bridge. Deck five and six are maintenance and engine rooms. Deck two is where you’ll find the security system’s main controls, including the hard line for the Halo. Once you’re on the boat, if someone can jack me in I’ll be able to do more but for now I’m essentially your eyes in the sky.”
Timothy Drake-Wayne has been sidelined for the evening due to injury. He’s been incommunicado for most of the last two days recuperating from the brutal beating he received at the Iceberg lounge. Along with his own physical injuries, the hijacking of the BatCave systems have left the Bat-Family with only one functional computer system. The Nest, which isn’t something the rest of them can actually operate in the first place. Leaving him the nature one to play the role of Oracle for the evening.
On the flip-side of this is Dick Grayson, the man currently sporting the Batsuit, “We’re essentially down one Bat-Plane. While we were chasing down a certain Red Hood and stopping him from killing anyone else. The League assaulted Wayne Manor. They ransacked the entire place. PennyOne was controlling the plane remotely when they attacked. He was forced to leave it on auto-pilot. Giving our mysterious Hacker a timely opportunity to seize control of it and attempt to kill us all.”
“There is more than one way to go airborn though,” Grayson is quick then to gesture the two of them to his Cape. “It isn’t just for show… I’d be willing to bet that Damien’s cape still fits too. Maybe he’d like to trade the Hood in for a R, tonight?”
Catman: What has Thomas Blake been doing since everything went to shit? Retracing steps. Checking out old haunts and probably if he did not know any better, contaminating crime scenes, but luckily for the over worked, stressed out men and women of the law especially the CSI techs Thomas knew a thing thing or two about not contaminating crime scenes. For Thomas it was about getting what he needed references, deconstructing what happened, but what was in front of him.
Whether it was a broken table, skylight or anything else that was out of place. Scents that blended together that made for a nightmare for most could be pulled apart by Thomas. It was like looking at after images. He didn’t see people, his brain could fill in the images, but his sense of smell, his olfactory senses were on fire. Things that were familiar and those that were.
Birds of a feather and who flocked and didn’t flocked together could be made out. As could ninjas (he was being kind, because in the beginning it was kung fu mutha #$@%ers.) Those were new, but he was becoming familiar with them and their arsenal of weapons. They certainly liked their smoke bombs. If anything he was looking for clues, clues to help him piece together where to go next, what questions to asks.
The Joker was involved. It was evident by his pirate broadcasts. Word on the street is this is where it happened. He needed to be able to distinguish scents not to go running out into the city, but to add them to a growing and never ending repository of information, but these quiet moments of the lone cat slinking through the night allowed Thomas to organize information in a way that allowed him to ask simple questions. Questions that some would overlook, but others might go hmm.
Of the scents there were some that were unfamiliar. One that was expensive, yet exotic. The fragrance wasn’t anything you would find stateside, it was definitely outside the United States. It had to be the dame. Then there were others that were local could be Joker, but another, this one that was neither ninja, goon or Cobblepot made Thomas wrinkle his nose.
He knew that scent. He smelled it before. He tucked that away. The scent had no name attached to it, but the nose never forgets. Still, this is where the dame was snatched. It’s what he was thinking about as he left one crime scene for the next. There were people to talk to. This was normal. Insurance rates would go out for Oswald, but he’d reopen.
He always did. Why was he involved? Why did it matter? Firefly wasn’t anyone to him, not really.
Perhaps it was the nagging feeling of…where was the justice? If it had been him he’d be in jail, being told what a harm he was to society. Ninjas were in the streets menacing anyone that was caught in their path that happened to have some interaction with those that had been classified as the enemy, because they might know something. Bat’s was an asshole, but he was their asshole and there was something. This…this bullshit was something….Gotham was hitting new lows, even for Gotham and given that he was from Gotham Thomas Blake could say that.
In the middle of all that something stuck out.
Damien: Damien had chosen to gloss over the fact that he had killed Killer Moth, but it wasn’t something he regretted all that much. The man was useless. Hardly a match for Damien’s viciousness. But, that wasn’t the others appreciated so much.
“You are not funny, Richard. Besides, I believe Dinah wore it better than I ever had.” Damien said with a complete straight face and deadpan delivery. Did he just make a joke? Gunning it towards the docks, Damien didn’t stop for anything. Dodging between cars, surprising old ladies crossing the crosswalk. You know, what he normally would have done. “The League attacked Wayne Manor? Hmm. Interesting.” pressing his lips together as he continued zooming towards the harbor.
Storing that bit of information for later, Damien concentrates on the operation at hand. “Dinah. I will need you to take care of the lights. If we cannot shut off the lights, then the night will be much more difficult than it will need to be. What about lifesigns, Timothy? Can your eyes tell us how many guards we are expected to encounter? And maybe where Joker is holding my mother hostage?”
ST: “That is where I give you the Bad News,” as if the rest of what Tim had reported was Good News! “There are nearly one hundred life signs on the boat. Scattered pretty randomly, from what I can see. I can’t risk the drones going in close, with the Halo on, or they’ll blow the element of surprise. So I’m dealing with what I can give you from range. More than half of the life-signs are also pinging on the metal detectors, suggesting that they’re armed. But…
“I’m afraid that’s not the worst of the news. My drones are reading high levels of thermite, which isn’t necessarily an explosive of it’s own, but is a catalyst used to ignite explosives,” Timothy’s voice is actually shaky when he finishes speaking. “What I’m saying is. I can’t tell you who is an enemy or an innocent but what I can tell you is that Joker has rigged nearly everyone on that boat with dead man explosives.”
Dinah: “Sounds like a job for someone not named Canary, you lost me at hard wired…”
In reality, I’d followed the rundown of the yacht itself of course, layout and what’s where committed to memory as easily as anything else is. Except the operation, or use, of anything more complicated technology wise than my VCR. I can use computers, we just have a hate-hate relationship and when it comes to ‘jacking’ anything, especially something important, it’s not a job best left to me even if there’s no other options. I’d probably find a way to get his system herpes at a distance. Or just break whatever I was supposed to be linking. But I’m glad Red Robin’s not here. I’d tried ‘grounding’ him to the house that he’s bunking in with me, which had lasted until I’d left myself, and he’d only been briefly back since. As long as he’s not in the thick of the fight though, he can do his thing.
“Ttch. I was hoping to see you in the booties, Hood. I’m sure they make them in your color. And I wore it better than any of you did. But who wouldn’t want to get all up close and cuddly with Bats, here. You drop me in the bay and you’re getting another tally on your sheet…”
Any further comment or commentary about Damien’s plan gets cut off by Tim’s additional sunny information about our situation here, and the corner of my mouth pulls tighter, and tighter to the side in a grimace as he goes on.
“So. We need to get in and out, with minimal side trips for vengeance…” Yes, I’m making side eyes at you, Hood, “In as short an amount of time as possible. I’m assuming if I destroy in true me fashion the controls and lights then Red Robin’s not going to be able to help…?”
Catman: Thomas had been to the Iceberg a few times, it was usually for upscale clientele. He was familiar with most of the female staff in one way or another. He rather not go into how he knew them, but he was familiar with most of their scents and the clothing that Cobblepot had them wear. It was familiar. However, there was something that didn’t stand out, something that was more along the lines Joker’s people.
Quinn. Not that he didn’t have a frame of reference, but anyone that was there that talked said nothing about her. Despite all her problems, Quinn was not a shrinking violet. She was loud, obnoxious and usually draped over the Joker like a cheap suit. At least that’s what Thomas had observed and heard. However, this time there was no mention of her…at all.
Even more, he couldn’t recall seeing her during the Joker’s broadcasts. That didn’t add up. Not one bit. What’s a guy to do? Ask questions. Questions that could get him in trouble if he asked the wrong people, but there were people he could ask. Had they seen the Joker’s best gal. True they had their differences, and they sometimes went on the outs, but there was nothing on the street said that they were on the outs. What he had a was a peculiarity. One ne needed to uncover.
Here’s the thing. He was working at the deductive reasoning business. If the Joker and Harley weren’t on the outs then where was she? There was nothing from the regulars about her being seen or brought into the police department and she’s not someone you would overlook on the street. She stood out just like the clown.
However, everything about what happened at everyone looking at the Joker focused on what he was doing. Their attention was to the left, but what was happening to the right? What was she up to? Why wasn’t she noticed? Because she didn’t want to be. Took of her face and put on a mask.
She blended in. Change of pace. Less asking about Harley and more about Harleen.
Damien: “I will hardwire him into the boat, then.” offering as he listened to Tim. Though, that didn’t discourage him from coming in hot on the harbor. “Oracle. If I am to give you a up close look at these dead man explosives, will you be able to determine if you can disable them, or give us a way to disable them?” the information was bleak, but it wasn’t going to stop Damien from going in. Though, it wasn’t going to be in the usual way.
Getting through the harbor gate wasn’t hard, that was probably the easiest thing he’d done tonight. Coming within sight of the yacht, Damien would narrow his eyes. It was obvious which boat it was. “Do not worry, Canary. There is only one trip of vengeance, And that is ending when I bash my fist against Joker’s skull.” explaining. “And here, We were comrades at one point. Tch. I was thinking of inviting him to Thanksgiving Dinner.” Obviously Damien was suffering from some kind of head trauma to make such a terrible joke.
Or, maybe he was trying to be like them? It was hard to tell. Damien was hard to read at times. “Okay, Oracle. I will be on the boarding ramp to the vessel in…3 …. 2 …. 1” stopping the cycle hard when he gets just inside the halo light, Damien launches himself at the first guard. Hoping to draw the surprise of some the guards to him. “Patch yourself to my helmet to see what I see and advise.”
ST: “Alright, hang on tight then Canary,” Dick’s voice is not nearly so stern as Bruce’s, but there’s a timber to it when he’s wearing the cowl. “Let’s be clear about this, Hood. We’re here to get your Mother out, Damien. That has to be the priority. Saving Gotham for tonight means getting Ra’s his daughter back.”
Bruce would have never agreed to this plan. Not with so many variables. Especially not with Damien in such a strange place as he has been mentally of late. Bringing in help with explosives on every level would have just invited carnage. All but asking the Joker to set them off for no other reason than to take people away from the Batman. The trouble with Bruce’s method, tonight, would have been a failure to recognize that all of this isn’t about the Batman and his eternal fight with the Joker. It’s about Damien confronting his Demon. Maybe tonight that Demon wears the face of a clown, but it’s still the young man’s demons at risk here. The loss of his Father has the Hood going down a rabbit hole and this might be the last chance to pull him out of it.
The Batman’s arms enclose around the lithe waist of the Black Canary only moments before the two of them take in to the air. They were in a lofty spot, across the Docks at the Lighthouse Tower. It was not merely a point of vantage to see the scene before them, but offered an opportunity to take the high ground. With his cowl in place, Dick was able to track the Red Hood’s transit from afar. Making it an issue of timing, that put them in the air only seconds after Damien begins his count down. Their arrival cannot be before the Hood causes a distraction. True to his words the Cape that Dick wears is fully functional, with hardened spines that look to be seams snapping in to place. With the cape then employed as a glider it will allow Black Canary to choose her point of entry.
In all of their ears is Timothy Drake, “You’re on my main screen Hood. I’m going to use your helmet line a sonar. As you move through the boat I’ll ping and then cross reference with the blue prints. Your mother has to be on level three or four. Deck four is mostly bed rooms. The films that Joker was sending to the local news showed your mother on a stage. That means deck three. Near the aft of the boat. There’s a theater room there. They have live bands perform for parties.”
Now the Boat itself isn’t that difficult to board. Not for the Batman, Black Canary and especially not the Red Hood on his motorcycle. What might be surprising though is the lack of defense put up by the ‘armed guards.’ Even when the engine of the Red Hood’s bike garners their attention? They seem rather flat-footed about mowing him down with a spray of bullets.
Which is a mystery that gets solve in rather quick fashion, when the Halo goes out and the disco lights take it’s place. If you though the Halo effect was bright? This is taking that effect and adding crack cocaine to it. The Admiral Harbor lights up like New Years, in the middle of June. The party music that had been reported to the police as noise pollution before only cranks it up that much worse.
Oh, but that is not the strangest little bit of information that our ‘Heroes’ get once arriving on scene. One has to wonder: How did Ra’s al Ghul know where the Joker was holding Talia? That answer comes quickly. In the form of League of Shadows bowmen laying face down in the olympic sized pool on the main deck. Their blood has turned the pool a sickly shade of brown. The chlorine does very little to cleanse the stench of death from the air. It’s difficult to count how many of the Assassins have died, because their bodies are quite literally piling up in the pool.
Catman: Thomas would not go as far as to say that he cracked the case, but he had something he could work with. It’s not that he didn’t have other resources, but he rather not tip his hand if he didn’t have to. He also was unsure about where he stood. Could this be contained? If so, what then? If not, what then? Gotham hadn’t grinded to a halt, but it felt like a city had seized a bit with everything that happened. The wheels of progress were once again off the track in the worst way.
Even if this had the best possible outcome and Talia al Ghul was rescued there were individuals who weren’t too keen about the way things went down. If the ninjas had been acting alone at the command of their master it would be one thing, but there had been too many reports that the Hood had been at the front. The same Hood who was galivanting around with the Joker.
Everyone saw how long that lasted, in the progress someone last their life and yes everyone knew the Joker was insane, not excuse a fact and he may find his way to Arkham again to repeat that cycle, but what about the Hood? Is this the Justice people should expect now? Are the rules being rewritten? A new order.
The Bat had been seen, but…Thomas told himself to focus. He needed to take a step at a time. Rather than asking if anyone had seen Harleen Quinzel he asked if anyone had seen this woman. If they didn’t think about or she would be a random person.
Anywhere. Somewhere. Someone had to have seen the woman. He was hoping. Whether Gothamites wanted to believe all of Gotham was touched by crime. Some violent, some not so violent some that used the upper echelons of population to bring their operations into the light. They went legitimate , we as legitimate as they could. Others had understandings, which is why he spoke with everyone showing the picture of Harleen from an old newspaper article. They didn’t need to know that she now went about as Harley Quinn.
It was a simple, “Have you seen this woman.” Type of situation. She was running a scam, and someone got burned and Thomas was doing work to track her down, for a friend. It took a little time, because he slow walked it, he didn’t want to tip off the wrong people. If word got around that he was looking for Harley it could quickly get back to the Joker and he wanted to avoid that.
However, he got what he needed eventually. She had been spotted, in Sandy Hook of all places.
Dinah: “So help me God, if you taze me again right now…”
I know he’s not going to, so it’s a hollow and trailed off threat as I wrap my arms around Grayson’s suited form. Up close, it’s very easy to tell the difference between him and when Tim wore the suit, even though he was ‘enhancing’ a lot when he did, and certainly from their father. They’re all built very differently, which could be attributed to what they’re each individually good at I suppose. His ‘fun’ little prank while we were sparring was one thing, none of these guys are going to put down a comrade in the field, especially not when there’s only three of us. It might amount to suicide.
And speaking of which…
There’s a harsh noise not exactly under my breath as we glide over the pool, lit up like a psychedelic murder disco that says ‘Welcome! Party’s Right Here and We’ve Been Waiting for You!’
“So we’re doing Ra’s’ dirty work, in the name of family loyalty and Gotham. Just #$&*ing great. I don’t know if this is a compliment, or a convenient ploy…”
And in the end it doesn’t really matter which one, because clearly the League can’t get this done with the forces he was willing to commit, and the current state of the city just can’t continue. As we approach the helicopter pad, and the inevitable staircase downwards to the floor below, I jerk my head with a suggestive waggle of blonde brows.
When I’m close enough to make the jump, I just let go and do, tumbling into a booted run across the top deck to make my way towards a whole lot of surely delicate electronics that I’m going to play not so nicely with.
Damien: Damien’s response well, wasn’t a response as Dick told him they were there for his mother, and his mother only. Vengeance will have to wait. That simple fact made Damien’s blood boil. Once again, having to choose. It was the right decision, Damien recognized that, but it didn’t mean that he had to like it. Once he’s on the boat, he’s surprised to see the League of Assassin bowmen laying face down in the pool, upon piles of their own corpses in the pool. It was a disturbing sight, but didn’t faze Damien.
All this would bring Damien down to one knee within the bridge as he reached up to touch the side of his helmet to turn the sound dampeners on. Then something in his lenses to filter out the extra light. Though, it would take him several seconds for the light blindness to slowly fade away. Whatever Joker was doing, it was definitely slowing them down. “Oracle. Can you hear me?” asking, unsure if Tim would be able to overcome the additional sound and light at the origin. When his blindness faded, Damien’s vision would still be hampered. Though, he could only hope that Batman was able to overcome this.
“If you can hear me, Oracle. Can you turn the power off to the vessel? Maybe that will be sufficient enough to turn off the lights and additional music. I am unsure how much longer the sound dampeners in the helmet will be able to suppress the sound before overloading.” It was becoming clear as to why his father had such a hard time defeating Joker. There was no rhyme or reason to his methods. No pattern, just pure chaos. While even chaos had patterns, Joker seemed to defy those laws.
“Batman, Canary. Are you well?” asking as Damien worked on patching a stronger connection for Oracle.
ST: Now our group makes Three. Batman. Black Canary. Red Hood. Gone is the sound of Timothy Drake in their ears. Gone is the sound of one another in their ears. While there are three of them, they are now each very much alone.
The Red Hood has taken to the bridge, that was the plan. He’d volunteered to handle deploying Timothy’s technology that should have given the Boy Wonder access to the Vessel. However none of them had accounted for the instant radio silence that descends upon them at their arrival. Damien most of all was relying on Tim to give him information. Cut off from that he has only his own senses and those of his Red Hood helmet to rely upon. Immediately beneath the Helicopter Pad, the Bridge Deck is actually the smallest area where crew or passengers actually inhabit. Damien can literally see from one side of the deck to the next, with the only impediment to his vision being the singular ‘Room’ where the crew would go to take control of the boat. That’s where the Captain and Crew would be, if the boat was out of the Harbor sailing the ocean blue. Right now the Bridge itself has a myriad of crew members. Each one dressed in their uniforms. Though they’re each showing signs of abuse. Their faces painted, marred with makeup that has made each of their faces a mocking tribute to the Joker.
What’s more immediately recognizable is that Tim was right. They’re all armed. Each of the five man crew that inhabit the bridge is armed with some manner of firearm. And each of them are turning those weapons on the Red Hood.
The Black Canary’s roost upon the Helipad is actually the one place on the vessel with the least amount of eyes on it. But that is actually by design. As the Boat ‘Lights Up’ the Helipad is transformed in to a stage. With the biggest and brightest of the lights turned upon it. Colors of all sort wash over the pad, as blinding as the sounds are deafening. The purpose of chaos is often confusion, but the lights upon the Helipad do not remain all that confusing for once. Their swirling nature last only until each of the lights come to rest upon a single point. A spotlight, such as it is. With a single person standing in the middle of it. A woman. Who’s arrival seems all too timely, especially once Dinah realizes that this woman has put herself right in the path of the staircase off the Helicopter Pad. The red, purple and green tassels that waft in the wind have a similar effect to Batman’s pretty cape obscuring most of the visible sight of what armor and weapons the creature might be carrying.
To those not yet on the boat the sight of the Yacht has drastically changed. It’s ordinary white wash finish has taken on a purple and green hue. The soundscoming from the Destiny can reach as much as a mile away. Circus Music is certainly a way to rouse many a high profile millionaire in the surrounding boats. Anyone within range of line of sight might also notice, strangely, that the other guards are almost motionless all along the exterior of the Boat.
Catman: This was the last place that he thought he would find himself. When people came to visit Gotham it was usually this area that they visited. It is where Gotham Stadium was located. It was the part of Gotham that people wanted to have showcase across the world and it got its fair share of television time sadly Crime Alley and the like also got their fair share. If Crime Alley was the hideous child that you wanted to keep hidden under the steps then Sandy Hook was the one you wanted to show.
In other words, Sandy Hook was Marcia Brady, while Crime Alley didn’t even rate Jan, it was Cousin Oliver.
If Thomas had more to go on he might know where to start in this area of the city, but while he had something he didn’t know exactly what it was. There could have been a number of reasons why Harley had come to his part of town. He could ask around, but that would take time and time had been running out. Though when one thought about it despite the fact that Talia al Ghul had been snatched in the Iceberg, Sandy Hook would definitely be an area she might have been residing in.
It was a leap, but one thing that Thomas knew was that no one had heard anything about the Joker setting up shop in the usual areas. Maybe there was a reason for that. Perhaps to disappear they needed to hide in plan sight in the last place anyone would look for them. It was possible. Anything was possible. It could explain why Harley had been in the area.
Perhaps it was as simple as that. Not only had she removed the armor to appear as a regular person they needed something innocuous and wouldn’t draw attention to themselves. So many assumptions, but now that he had an area there were different questions that he could ask.
Was there anything out of the ordinary. Anything, nothing was too big or small. Was it business as usual in Sandy Hook or was something out of place? That was the question and while there had been no explosions, no terrible threatening people roaming the streets, there had been something.
Noise complaint. Nuisance. Noise pollution. Apparently, all was not well in Sandy Hook. Neighbors weren’t getting along. Perhaps they were having a bit of spat, but as Thomas dug into it apparently this had been going on for quite some time. Two weeks. Two weeks and nothing, but then again, the wealthy tended to handle certain matters amongst themselves. At least that what he was told, but two weeks. It was true that al Ghul had been missing for a week, but perhaps he should.
It’s what brought Thomas to the Admiral Docks in Sandy Hook. The source of the noise pollution. Thomas had seen it before they all had. It was a jewel of Gotham, but by the time he arrived it had gone from jewel to something out of a nightmare. If there was any doubt about where the Joker had set up shop it had vanished. Apparently, the murder circus had set up shop on the water.
Despite what this meant the first thought that Thomas had was, property values are about to hit the basement.
Dinah: The lack of communication and tech feeds? Not actually all that problematic for me. I know what kind of gadget suites most of the other suits run, heads up displays, data feeds, streamed access to the Batputers. Just because I avoid implementing them like the plague doesn’t mean I don’t have a general idea of what they’re all working with. The only thing I’ve used, and probably ever will use, is the earpiece for communicating with my partners, and on occasion some low light/no light lenses. I’ve heard enough bitching and moaning from Tim that I wouldn’t let him ‘set me up’ with something more efficient and top end when he did the latest iteration of my Canary ‘suit,’ not to mention the serious threats of bodily harm he got when eyeballing my bike, but in moments like this? I kind of thing it’s a good thing. I don’t feel crippled, or even that off, when the banter and insight cuts off.
Plus, I have a bit of a distraction in front of me. The lights, and the figure at least. The sound doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Being immune to the concussive force of my own powers doesn’t mean I don’t hear them.
They were waiting for us. Tonight, in fact, because I don’t buy that this one, of all people, was conveniently waiting just so for more than about five minutes. I doubt she has the attention span for it, really. That’s not even factoring in the lovely stage lighting, but I only spend so long wondering exactly how much of our system has been compromised, and where it starts. Or maybe someone just told them we were coming.
“Well, gotta say I’m a little surprised. I figured you’d be all for us offloading your boss’ distraction…”
Damien: When his vision came back, Damien turned around to see five men pointing their weapons at him. This wasn’t good. When they started firing on him, Damien did his best dance to dodge the incoming bullets. They were marred in Joker makeup, which means they might be doing this against their will. Which means non-lethal methods. Unfortunately, that didn’t apply to them against him. Though, he couldn’t kill them. Didn’t mean he could disable him. Diving behind one of the consoles in the bridge, he used it to take cover from the fire.
They were jamming all the equipment. Which meant that Damien had no idea what was going on. But, he had faith in his brother and Dinah to get the job done. There was a hope that maybe Tim could do something. But for now, he had to assume there was going to be no way in contacting his younger brother. It was a slight setback. Right now, Damien had to deal with five armed men, looking to make swiss cheese out of him. Sure, Damien’s armor was bullet proof. It didn’t mean he wanted to rush them and test just how bullet proof it was.
When there was enough of a pause, Damien would make his move. Getting onto his feet and staying low, he pulls out a small blade and runs around the edge of the console. Making sure to make it as hard as possible for the men to tag him. To keep them alive, he was going to have to slice the side of their knees in an attempt to get them to falter. It was the best he could do right now, because if any of them get a good shot in, things were going to become much… much different.
Helena: She couldn’t decide if she was more frustrated or embarrassed over the end of the evening. Frustration she could deal with, the other, not quite so easily. It left a lot of lingering questions she was prepared to answer, or could even answer. It also posed some larger problems and that on top of everything just soured her mood. Being reminded of to many things from her past made a seed of doubt dig its way into her brain, imbedding and growing. To many what ifs were running through her head as she unlocked the door to her dead father’s house and slammed it behind her. Leaning back against it she rubbed the but of her palm into one eye, her head was throbbing again in that knife through the back of the skull kind of way.
Dropping her purse on the entryway table she dug into it, pulling out her bottle of pills. Her hand was shaking, never a good sign, as she opened it and tapped out two of the contents and tossed them into her mouth. Dry swallowing the pills she tossed the bottle back inside her purse, taking it upstairs to her old bedroom to leave among the pile of her things that she’d still yet to go through. Which made her eyes slowly turn to the large locked storage box that she’d shipped over with the rest of her things.
Gotham was off limits. She wasn’t here in any official capacity. She wasn’t here to work. Yet she’d still packed her suit and gear. She hadn’t expected to need it but coming back here with what information she had been given she had planned on gathering more information about the vigilantes in the city. And Dick had left her to go deal with a problem at the docks, which lead to the possibility that those very same vigilanties would be showing up.
An hour later she was perched on the edge of a roof looking down over the harbor, googles down over her eyes as she zoomed in on the yacht just as the lights lit up in clashing colors. A frown tugged across her face and with a thought the air around her shimmered and she vanished from sight. Jumping down off the roof she caught the edge of the fire escape, swinging her around, slowing her descent before hitting the pavement silently. The police radio in her ear buzzing.
Moving further toward the docks she found a new perch on the roof of another yacht, the lack of chatter in her ear making her frown. The silent pop of the radio the telltale sign of a jammer. She drummed her fingers against her knee, the unsetlings sixth sense in the back of her head setting off more than a few warning signs.
ST: “Gee wizz, Mista Jay ain’t so distracticated as ya might think.”
The Cheshire smile is right at home on her sweet face. Dinah’s taller. Seemingly in better shape. Nothing about the heart-shaped face or the even heartier shaped bottom suggests that she might put up a fight against someone like the Canary. Yet there she is. In all of her grandeur. Posing, more or less. Directly in the path of the blonde vigilante. Making no effort to hide or simper. She’s bold and the mallet in her hand, trailing upon the helipad behind her? Is even bolder.
“Listen Tweety, what we have here is a stand-off. Not even the fun Mexican variety. What say we skip town. Couple gurls out on the town. Leave the boys to their toys and games? Maybe we can stop and watch the fireworks. Mista Jay does the best fireworks.”
Just below the Helicopter Pad is the Bridge and that is where Damien is encountering a whole new world of psychotic. He’s right to dive for the nearest console. He’s also right that there’s no way of knowing whether or not the bridge crew are acting upon their own volition or not. What he does know, right away, is that they’re trying to kill him. Gunfire erupts immediately.
Now when he emerges from behind the console there’s a selection of targets. The five of them have not spread out like professions. They’re huddling closer to the console than they should and when Damien takes the fight to them he’s quick to take one out at the knee. Immediately he gets a little more information about the crew, because they don’t hesitate. The remaining four simply shoot at whatever is moving. Including each other. He might not be employing lethal force, but the first person he takes out? Is dead shortly there after by the other men not caring who they shoot in their rush to hit Damien.
His helmet is filtering all of the insanity around him, but it isn’t blocking it off entirely. Now that he’s engaged directly, he’ll hear the men. Screaming. Not in rage, but in terror. They’re terrified. Of -Him-. They’re not attacking him out of rage or intention, they’re attacking him out of unbridled fear. Like he was a demon among their midst.
Not too far below them comes yet more sounds of carnage. After dropping Canary at the point she wished, Dick Grayson descended upon the boat as Batman. Neither of them can see what is happening, but there is no mistaking the sounds of combat below.
Nor can either of them mistake the sound of the first explosion for what it is either. Easily seen from -off- the boat. Something or someone just went up like the forth of July.
In the relative silence that follows the first explosion comes the maniacal cackle of the Clown Prince.
Damien: Damien can see it in their faces, though he can’t let emotion get the best of him. Did he want this man to die? No. He didn’t deserve this, he didn’t deserve to die like this.In complete terror and being shot down by his friends. As much as Damien wanted to save the man, he knew he couldn’t. It was something he’ll have to figure out later. But, right now, he couldn’t be distracted. Taking them down close wasn’t going to do it. Instead, he ops to use the console again as a shield, but he knows it wasn’t going to take long before their weapons completely tore through the already bullet riddled console.
When Damien heard the explosion, hopefully that would catch the men’s attention just long enough for him to throw over some gas pellets as he ran from the console as it wasn’t providing him with any kind of cover. He’d use anything as cover at this point, hoping the gas pellets would be enough to knock the men out. Damien was a man of order, He liked to do things in a certain way. Much like how Bruce did. There was a method to his madness. The Clown Prince threw all that into the air.
“I do not suppose you men are done shooting at me?” asking, waiting for the sounds of the men falling to the ground before slowly creeping up behind a sofa.
Hopefully Dinah and Richard were having a better time than he was.
Dinah: Here’s the thing about looking curvy and sweet and mostly just female: it gets you underestimated. A lot. Even when you’re carrying a Loony Tune-esque mallet in your hands. It’s one of the reasons that I walk around in glorified fetishwear, or maybe just underwear like I do. Being underestimated is a real, solid, and fairly dependable fighting tactic, especially when you’re aggressive enough to seize upon any and all openings that gives you. I’m not going to underestimate Harley Quinn.
“I suppose not, seems like he’s had plenty of time to plan a real party…”
Cocking my head towards the starboard side of the boat, I sweep a half gloved hand out in an inviting gesture.
“Pick up some margaritas on the way? Sounds great, after you…”
The gunfire erupting below isn’t unexpected, we knew most of them were armed coming in, and it means that someone’s engaged. From how close it sounds it could be either one. Then comes the explosion, that you don’t have to be able to see to hear, and maybe even feel. I don’t have time to stand around playing a waiting game here, so I sigh, and the hand returns to my fist.
“No? Alright then.”
I don’t normally like to give up ground. It’s always better to force your opponent to act so that you can react, and set the terms of an engagement but she’s already called it what it could be. A stand-off. And so I move, charging in on the side of the mallet so there’s less time for a wind up, and more opportunity to dodge its’ inevitable path.
ST: The fight in the bridge room ends up being short, if not sweet. Though the gas pellets do not have 100% effectiveness, they do take the proverbial heat off of Damien. One by one the crew men succumb to the toxic gas they inhale. But once the Red Hood emerges from behind the cover he sought, he’ll see that knocking them out did not save them from a gruesome ending.
One by one as the crewmen began to lose focus and consciousness, they took their own lives. Of the fives that were there when he entered three of them died from wounds inflicted upon themselves. One shot himself, to avoid the ‘Demonic Creature’ that would sure surface from the toxic cloud to eat him. Another slit his own throat in some sort of gruesome attempt to keep himself from inhaling the acidic cloud that Damien unleashed upon them. A third simply died, choking and wheezing upon the gas itself. He lays at Damien’s feet gurgling his last breathe in utter terror of the Red Hood.
Only one remains and he, the Captain of Yacht in fact, lays curled at the base of the doorway. Huddled around his firearm. Rocking back and forth, muttering some strange prayer for the help of God to protect him from these unearthed sea demons.
In any sort of real fight between Harley Quinn and Dinah Lance, the Canary wins. The only mistake that Dinah makes is in thinking that this is such a thing. She charges. Quinn ducks backwards, making no effort to truly engage. Instead as she dances back, a hidden switch on the mallet is touched and the floodlights rush to her co-star. The Black Canary gets the lights from all sides. All at once. The sudden unmistakable focus of those ultra high beams, meant to guide aircraft in from thousands of feet away.
She doesn’t attack Canary at all at first. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Blinding the Canary is just step one. Step two comes in the form of a string of fire crackers. Tossed at the pretty bird’s feet. Not just any fire crackers. I mean, they do read “BOOM” on the side.
Her giggling is pretty obnoxious.
Once Damien emerges from the Bridge area he’s going to be greeted with those lights and sounds. The circus is in town and it’s apparently right here on the boat. Below him, just a single deck down. Batman is facing an eerily similar situation to what Damien had faced. It’s nearly impossible to discern the difference between Joker’s actual goons and the hapless souls who just happened to be here innocently when Joker took over the boat.
Which has left Dick Grayson fighting a battle from all sides. Bouncing between upturned chairs, that once upon a time had been for use in the art of sunbathing. He fights an ever growing battle. Similar to Damien’s results, Dick has discovered that disabling the innocents merely causes the thermite that Tim pointed out, to ignite.
“They’re all wired! If they lose consciousness, they blow up. We can’t knock the civilians out! It’ll kill them.”
Which means the Batman is bound in a dance between the ones actively trying to kill him and the ones who can’t help themselves. The Chaos has them turning even on one another. Which is clearly what caused the explosion before.
“… they’ve all been juices… I think it’s Scarecrow’s fear toxins…”
Dinah: So we’re back to the crazytown stand-off it seems, and even though my eyes have started to adjust to the bright strobe effect that’s been bouncing and dancing all over the ship, I wasn’t entirely prepared for the intensity of all of those floodlights, all at the same time. A defensive arm isn’t nearly enough, or fast enough, to fully block them from robbing me of the full range of vision. Who needs all their senses in a fight… It’s definitely preferable but you just have to learn to use the other ones to compensate.
Speaking of seizing advantages, Harley wastes little time in an attack of her own, or what looks like one anyway. They could be nothing. They could also be enough C4 to blast me to Bludhaven in bits, regardless of what happens to the boat along with me. Naval safety doesn’t seem to be their concern, if the amount of thermite Tim had spoken of was any indicator.
I just don’t let them slow me down, after the stutter that blinding lights had caused in my gait, I pick up steam again, breaking into a sprint, orienting myself on that awful, grating giggling. That I know how to stop once I get my fists on her.
Damien: This was insanity in its most pure form. Thankfully Damien’s helmet was able to at least filter out the extra noise and strobing lights. “I noticed.” saying as Damien descended onto pool deck to help Batman try and contain and incapacitate them. “Then maybe we should not incapacitate them. Instead, may I suggest rounding them up like cattle in order to stop hurting themselves?” asking. Damien’s blood was boiling on high. But he was trying to keep his cool so that he could go confront Joker and end this lunacy once and for all.
Pulling out some rope, he hands Batman one end and hopefully they’re able to maneuver around the masses enough to try and tie them up without knocking them out. “Do you have any Fear-Toxin Antidote on you?” Damien wasn’t sure what Batman had exactly. Hopefully their plan worked. “Do you think you can get to the engine room, Batman? The bridge is out of commission and the only way to disable the vessel now is through a power switch in the engine room. Though. I have a feeling you may find more of these lunatics on your way.” commenting, Damien would then start towards where the theatre was. It was time to end this, and end it now.
ST: It might seem like a mad dash, but Dinah’s got a lot of things working in her favor. The rush of adrenaline, the sound of Harley’s laughter. Motivation in the form of Fire Crackers that are even now going off with the thunderous sounds of rifle fire.
What she lacks though, is premeditation. Harley has that in spades. Our Heroes have seemingly forgotten that Joker and Harley are each more than insane, they’re also brilliant in their own little ways. Harley, also known as Harleen Quinzel, happens to be a world class psychologist. Knowing for getting in to her client’s headspace in a way that most couldn’t even understand. Right now she seems to know, intuitively, that the Canary wouldn’t just let someone like her win without giving it her all. Why else would Harley be playing a game of keep away.
Which is working, if only because Harley is dancing away unencumbered by the light that threatens to take away Dinah’s vision. Unfortunately for Harley that only works for so long, before Dinah’s almost upon her and the giggling stops.
“Hey! Hands offa da merchandise!”
Dinah manages a single handful of one of those tassels. Now she just has to hold on to it when that Hammer’s handle thuds against Canary’s stomach.
Batman and Robin, by way of the Red Hood, are squaring off with a sizeable amount of terror-filled people. As Damien gets in close, he’ll see what Dick was talking about. These Civilians are scared, they’re lashing out at anything and anyone who gets close. No skill involved, but that’s where the actual trained goons are failing as well. They’re frightened as well, terrified just the same. Causing them to surrender their own training to that fear, giving in to it. Putting the entirety of that third deck in to complete chaos.
And the Batman’s already scary appearance is only making it worse. He amounts to a literal demon in their midst, not just ones their imagination conjure up.
Damien’s plan is one that Dick sees some sense in, but there happens to be a whole lot of downside in it. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be a lot of choice though. Bringing the Grappling hook in to play, he sets about assisting Damien in that very thing. Tying up as many of them as he can. At the very least it thins their numbers.
“Standard issue in any utility belt, but I don’t have enough for all of these people. That helmet of your’s should keep it out of your system, I’ve got the re-breather from my cowl. Canary’s unprotected though…”
Leaving Damien here sounds like a terrible idea, but neutralizing the boat’s power is an optimal plan. There’s little doubt that it’s not the best option, but nothing in this mad house is optimal. Finally Dick gives him a nod, he’ll get the power turned off.
“Hood, as hard as this is to accept. We have to get Talia off of this boat. There’s maybe fifty civilians here, but if Talia dies Ra’s will unleash the League on the whole City. Ten times is many people die if that happens.”
Damien: “Turn off the power and attempt to get to Canary. I will get Talia and take her off this boat. I know what Ra’s is capable of Batman. His blood runs within me. Also, maybe call PennyOne after you have turned the power off. Have him drop enough on everybody here.” Watching Batman for just a moment, Richard is Batman. There was no doubt that the cowl belonged to the right person. It was never for Damien to wear, but he would if Richard didn’t want to wear it.
Purging the thoughts from his mind, Damien turns and runs towards where the theatre is. Using their fear against them to create a path.
Talia had to be rescued. In his mind, Damien was working on an idea. An idea he didn’t like, He couldn’t fight the Joker and rescue Talia at the same time. So, he was going to have to go in guns blazing, if you will, to create enough of a distraction to grab Talia and then somehow blow out a section of the vessel to escape with her.
But, honestly. The idea was shakey enough.
If Joker killed Talia? That would probably be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It would be more than enough to drive Damien onto that path and never look back. Maybe even participate in the razing of Gotham. When he reaches the theatre doors, he doesn’t stop, instead he leaps into the air and kicks the door down tucking into a roll before popping back up, sword in hand.
Now, the final phase of this whole ordeal was about to end.
One way, Or another.
Dinah: Here’s the thing. You don’t stay in this line of ‘work’ without learning how to take a good bit of punishment, and being able to muscle on through it. I happen to prefer avoiding getting hit, while doing the brunt of the hitting myself, but there’s moments where things don’t go quite as I like. For instance, when I’m charging more than half blind at an opponent that I can only hear, and even that you can’t entirely trust because… these whack-os are all about show-biz tonight and I wouldn’t have been that surprised if it meant mics and speakers.
However, the handful of whatever this is, and the sharp ram to my midsection tells me I actually was heading the right direction. Hanging onto that tassel? Not a problem, if for no other reason than it’s getting a sharp yank as I fold forward over the handle of the mallet. Other hand going forward with the momentum of my run, following the ‘lead’ of the weapon down to the inevitable: one of the hands that is wielding it in the first place, and then a wrist so that when I twist around to that side, I’ve got a sensitive body part to torque along with me.
ST: While they weren’t able to secure everyone on the main deck, Damien and Dick did their best to secure as many as they could. There was only so much tether line between the two of them. It made for a slightly less chaotic venture for the two of them through different parts of the ship.
Dick’s path was less certain than Damien’s. Tasked with the unenviable task of getting all the way to the engine room, Dick understands that he doing the exact opposite of what Bruce would do. Bruce would -need- to go face the Joker. He would rationalize that this always going to be about Batman and Joker. Maybe he’d even be right, but the Joker knows. Somehow through all of his insanity? He knows that Batman is dead. Maybe not -the- Batman, but his Batman. He didn’t believe Timothy’s act as Batman and he’s unlikely to believe Dick’s anymore than that.
Damien on the other hand has a personal stake in this. One that will play out whether he’s involved or not. Losing Talia, without factoring in to the result would destroy him. Leaving only one choice, Dick has to trust his younger ‘Brother’ to do what is right. Because that’s really the only hope he has for the man’s sanity when all of this settles down.
So the Batman goes, not to fight to the Joker, but to find the power system that drives all of this insanity. Damien’s last sight of his brother is the cape and cowl descending a flight of boatsman steps. Sending a clown faced goon down before him, with a kick that jars the man to his very core.
“Tee hee. Holdin mah hand? Are we goin steady Tweety? How ’bout you give Momma a little sugar?”
Does that sound like a woman that is being twisted up like a pretzel? No, that sounds like a woman who enjoys being twisted up like a pretzel. Someone who’s had her arm twisted like that for kicks.
And Dinah was right. Sometimes it’s about muscling through the pain, other times it’s about enjoying it. Harley sounds almost happy to finally be in on some of the action. Dinah’s just getting warmed up too, when she undoubtedly hears the click.
That’s about all the warning she gets when the blunt end of mallet fires off like a rocket. Well, not -like- a rocket. It is an actual rocket. Having already been against Canary’s stomach, when the rocket fires it seeks to take Canary. Up up and away.
Oh and that arm? Yeah, well judging by the high piercing shriek of laughter Harley thinks of this like a Roller Coaster. If Canary hands on she gets to go for a ride.
Up until now Red Hood has managed to get through the majority of this Mad House unscathed. He got through the bridge somehow without being shot. He made it through with the Batman’s aide, what might amount to nearly a hundred fear-crazed people with knives, guns and explosives. All the way to the theater room, where he makes this super awesome kung-fun style entrance.
This, folks, is Red Hood. Damien Wayne. In all of his glory.
Right up until the Titanium Baseball bat hits the back of that red hood with a ‘ting‘ that sounds like a grand slam hit.
One to the ribs.
That one hits a knee.
One for the pistol arm.
“…stupid… fucking brat… don’t you get it? We are the same! He meant something to us… we needed answers. Who killed the Bat! Who took him from us?!”
Not so far in the distance? Damien can see his mother. Maybe not in the way he’s ever wanted to see her. She’s mostly naked by this point. Still hung to what looks like an over-sized dart-board. Which has been the obvious target of a game of throwing knives. Let’s just say more than few of them found the mark. If, between smacks of the baseball bat, he’s able to focus even a little? He’ll see that she’s actually still breathing. That may in fact be a bigger dishonor than anything else, because she’ll have to eventually awaken to see and feel what -all- has been done to her.
“Well. I know now. I know the truth … it’s the biggest Joke of them all…”
Dinah: Mother *%$&ing rockets.
When this is over, I’m going to go hunt down whomever it is that’s supplying these things to the city, and we’re going to have some words. And by words I mean I’m going to introduce them to every sharp, bony part of my body in rapid succession, and then do it a second, and possibly a third time afterwards. I wasn’t actually out to hurt Harley with the wrist lock. That had been to set her up for the hurt that was about to come when I put her down on our helipad dance floor.
Sorry Harls. No ride-a-long for you. At least not with me on this rocket-mallet. I let go of her wrist, and give the tassel in my other hand a yank, mostly to try to pull myself around and off of the forward movement of the rocket.
It’s short, but with my weight already back and off center, the force of that short burst ought to be enough to not only tilt me downwards, but the face-full of sonic energy might rock my opponent back, too, and maybe with some luck send her aim and her mallet up up and away. Prone isn’t exactly a great place to be, but I’m more than ready to kick anything that comes in range before I can kip back up again.
Damien: Joker didn’t have much in the way of strength that Damien, or even his father had. But, he wasn’t weak. So when the bat struck the back of Damien’s head, it nearly knocked off the helmet, but it also drove Damien down onto the floor where his ribs, knee and one of his pistol hands became greeted by the bat. The pain coursed through his body. Travelling at light speed, incapacitating him. But, every time Damien saw his nearly nude mother, he grew stronger. Grew angrier.
“Kill…” saying as blood dripped down out of his helmet. “Going … to kill you” growling under his mask. His head felt like it was on fire. Whatever was going to happen now, was going to happen on auto pilot now. When Joker stops his beatdown, Damien rolls away. But not before leaving a few exploding beads in his wake. Not enough kill him, but certainly surprise the living hell out of him. If they go off, the small force is enough to push Damien away even further from the psychotic clown.
Damien probably had a dislocated knee by this point, probably a cracked rib or two and a broken hand. But none of this was going to stop him from rescuing his mother. “Torturing the daughter of the demon would never get the answer you wanted, you psychotic lunatic.” pulling himself up, Damien can’t focus with the helmet on, so he tugs it off to see clearly. “You do not know the family you are trifling with, Joker. You do not realize the bounty that is on your head. The Demon will not stop for anything if you kill her.” slowly stalking towards the white skinned man.
“If you think Batman frightened you. Then you have no idea what true fear is. The Demon would kill you, Bring you back. Then do it again, for all eternity. Until your mind is so fractured, You will not even remember Batman. He will be just a memory that has lapsed.” stalking towards the Joker. “I will give you this opportunity to run, Joker. My fight is not with you tonight. Though, I will not hesitate to show you what real fear is.” saying as he changed direction to reach his mother.
“Come, Mother. It is time for you to return home.” Damien would keep his back towards Joker, knowing that Joker might strike him. Or run like the coward that he was. This scuffle with Joker was not over. He will pay his dues. Either by Damien’s hand, or by the League’s hand. This was his choice though. To rescue his mother and to take her home.
ST: What kind of world do we live in where a Rocket-Hammer doesn’t actually win in a game of one upsmanship between a couple of girls? A world full of crazy people, that’s what.
There’s this start of something truly beautiful. A little cheerful laughter, that turns almost mournful as the Canary is about to be sent in to outer space. Then a hiccup of, “…oh shit…” That comes just before the clowned smirk of Harley Quinn is turned in to a scowl of something akin to remorse.
Seconds later the Mallet of Mayhem is spiraling off in to the wild blue yonder. Leaving Harley’s dimpled face twisting in to a pout, that results in a foot stamp of petulance.
“That was mah favrit one! I clobbered Batgirl with that one… now you’re in for it…”
Then those wild, angry, blue eyes flicker to the wavering tassel. To the way Dinah twisted it as she rolled away. To the end that now tapers in a little loop around the …
“….but I didn’t wear mah parachooooootttt…”
The Joker might be unaware that his girlfriend is even now taking a short flight over Gotham Harbor, but he has other things to worry about. Beating the piss out of the Boy Wonder for one thing. Right now he’s too busy ranting to have immediately noticed the little beads or even care about what they do.
“… you think Ra’s al Ghul scares me?” His laughter is only interrupted by the beads exploding. Flinging the Joker away from Damien, much as it carries the Hood away from the baseball bat that was coming for him.
Coughing, wiping the blood from his chin, and using the bat as a cane to pick himself up from the wreckage of an overturned television filming stage. The Joker isn’t nearly done. He’s taken more than that in bathroom brawls for the soap. The dry laugh coming from his lungs is serious, not nearly so mocking as before.
“Ra’s is nothing, he lives off of fear. Fear that is over-stated. Look around you Hood. Look at the pool outside. Ra’s is over-rated. He couldn’t save his daughter. He had to send you. You and your second rate bat-knock-off and the blonde hooker. You’re a a regular justice league out there.”
“The only reason you’re even alive is because I need someone to know the punchline.” Twisting the handle of that bat, the fat end drops off revealing it to be a sort of mechanized shot gun. “It’s a joke. Don’t you even see it? Haha. This is why I need him. He’s my only equal. None of you even see it and it’s right in front of your faces.”
“Ra’s doesn’t care about his daughter. He already knew where she was. If was half as scary as you seem to think, why didn’t he bring the full League to rip her away?” Stalking toward the Red Hood, shotgun bat in hand. “He came to Gotham to get back what she stole. The Lazarus Pit you threaten me with. She stole it to raise the Bat.”
“But it didn’t work. Because there was no body. Ask her yourself ‘Red Hood,’ you clod. We’ve all been duped. Batman isn’t dead.”
The shotgun? Blasts a hole in the side of the boat. Big enough for Damien to take his mother and leap in to the Harbor. “… Talia had so much to tell me. I’m afraid I can’t let your friends take me back to Arkham yet. Not when I’ve got so much to do. Go. Carry on my Legacy, as the Red Hood.”
After all of this? The insanity of it all. Damien made it clear that he was letting the Joker leave and the Joker? If what he’s said is true, then he has no reason to stand and have one big last hurrah.
Damien really doesn’t have a choice after all. His back is to the Joker, brazenly. So all he really gets is to feel the Joker’s boot kicking him through the hole out in to the Harbor. He gets to hear the insane laughter. And watch from the Hudson River as the Joker sets the switch. Detonating any of the remaining bombs that can still go off.
How better to cover his exit?
Dinah: On the downside, apparently Harley wasn’t packing a parachute. Seems unwise if you’re going to walk around with a rocket mallet, but that’s just me. The upside? Her trip up, up and away has officially spared her from feeling the brunt of my irritation, and thwarted my plans of ending all that giggling with a couple well placed finger jabs. At least, it’s an upside if she knows how to swim, but that’s not as high a worry on my priority list right now as you might like to think.
Namely because the entire ship is now, apparently, exploding. The usual elegance of me rising to my feet gone all to hell because the vessel rocks, and roils, and moves beneath me. There’s no more attempts at getting to any controls, or lights, there’s just getting off this ship. And hoping that my companions are doing the same. Booted feet beat across the helipad, picking up as much speed as I can get, before launching myself over, and into the awaiting frigid water.
I can swim. Eat that, clowns.